Wednesday 24 July 2019

Broken English a Brexit bottleneck for Luxembourg

German Chancellor Angela Merkel adjusts her translator earphone during a press conference. Photo: Michael Sohn/AP Photo
German Chancellor Angela Merkel adjusts her translator earphone during a press conference. Photo: Michael Sohn/AP Photo

Stephanie Bodoni

Luxembourg's citizens can quickly impress with their language skills, switching with ease between their local tongue and German, French and English.

The duchy has been one of Ireland's main rivals in attempts to lure jobs from London in a post-Brexit Europe.

But financial firms hoping to open outposts in one of the European Union's most important such hubs may be in for a surprise.

Head hunters say there simply aren't enough candidates in and around the minuscule nation of 600,000 people with the excellent English needed to fill the expected 3,000 jobs triggered by the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

"Something we have seen since Brexit is that with some clients - like one large asset manager we're dealing with - we're having terrible difficulties," said Christopher Purdy, managing director at the Greenfield recruitment agency.

They demand "better or perfect English, as opposed to just fluent English".

Luxembourg is becoming the nation of choice for a growing number of insurers, funds and banks relocating from the UK due to Brexit.

But with English rapidly becoming the finance sector's key language, recruiters are starting to stumble over Luxembourg's traditionally more francophone outlook.

Recruitment agencies have in the past attracted a lot of graduates from France with four to five years' experience who couldn't find a role at their level in their own nation.

With economies picking up across Europe, this has changed as people find more jobs at home too.

"When we recruit in France it's difficult," said Jean-Francois Marliere, a founding partner of Marliere & Gerstlauer Executive Search in Luxembourg.

"We were recruiting in Paris for a wealth estate-planner post here and found people who were extremely qualified, but their English was unfortunately basically non-existent."

A boom in the private equity property market has made finding new assignments easier for headhunters, but they face difficulties closing deals "because the candidates we are looking for are, quite frankly, difficult to find," said Mr Marliere.

"We are no longer in the back office jobs, but in far more technological and technical positions that demand a much higher level of schooling and experience," he said.

The dearth of locals means headhunters are looking to lure qualified staff - with an excellent command of English - from further afield.

Gwladys Costant, partner at GoToFreedom recruitment agency, says a third of its candidates come from across the continent and increasingly from eastern Europe.

Aside from pay, that means the Grand Duchy has to work hard to sell a country that has a reputation as a traffic-choked backwater. The financial lobbying group Luxembourg for Finance is planing a new talent campaign, to show what the country has to offer.

"We're not pretending to be Paris or Amsterdam," said the agency's chief executive officer, Nicolas Mackel. Luxembourg has "other advantages and we want to show and point those out."


Irish Independent

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