British job seekers are losing out to less skilled staff from overseas because of their appalling foreign language skills, employers and training companies have warned.
Employers admit that they do not teach languages as part of apprenticeships. But they argue that the courses are "packed solid" with other demands and they should not be compensating for the schools failing to teach them.
Employers in some of the fastest-growing industries say they have to reject home-grown students - regardless of other skills - because they cannot communicate in the client's language.
Poor languages can be disastrous for business: firms reported losses running into hundreds of thousands of pounds because of misplaced orders and gaffes by tongue-tied British staff.
John Edson, of ITS Training Services, one of the biggest training providers for jobs in the shipping industry, told FE Focus: "Even when dealing with companies abroad that speak English, to be able to communicate in their own language will provide a commercial advantage."
He cited the case of a steel export product to which was damaged in transit - a dispute over the insurance resulting from a mistranslation of a contract cost the exporter pound;300,000.
A Learning and Skills Development agency study of vocational use of language shows that employers offering apprenticeships are wary of taking native students, who are more prone to make costly mistakes.
The report said the National Languages Strategy of 2002 has failed to lead to integration of languages into the vocational curriculum. Carol Collins, co-author of report, said: "The work-based learning providers we spoke to suggested that the companies they deal with preferred to employ people whose first language was other than English. They reported to me that modern languages were valuable but at the same time they were not providing courses."
Fifty large work-based training organisations studied by the LSDA said language learning was essential. But they said there was no room for language learning in a "packed" syllabus for the apprenticeship framework.