The multi-lingual market has been a hot bed of recruitment for close to 10 years. During that time companies have invested billions of euros in European shared services, contact centres and technical support operations in an attempt to streamline operations, gain business synergies, improve customer service, reduce cost and deliver stakeholder value.

Executives have to base their initial decisions on a myriad of factors, not least, near-shore and offshore locations, corporate taxation, property costs, salaries, language capabilities and saturation of the local recruitment markets. Companies operating multi-lingual centres are all too familiar with the pitfalls and difficulties in attracting and maintaining qualified staff with the necessary skills and experience to make these operations a success.


Demand for multi-lingual staff is at an all-time high with companies across Europe competing to attract agents, team leaders and managers to support their customer base. Multi-lingual salaries in the UK and Ireland have witnessed a rise of between 20%-25% over the past five years with the average starting salary standing at €19,800.

Salaries are under considerable pressure in London, Thames Valley, Manchester, Scotland and Dublin where the demand for multi-lingual staff is greatest. These locations offer candidates an abundance of work in any one of 15 European languages and companies aggressively compete for the next hire.

Similarly, in regional locations in both the UK & Ireland there is less competition for staff, reduced attrition rates and a lower salary scale in line with market conditions. Wales & Northern Ireland, while home to the fewest multi-lingual operations, experience the lowest attrition rates and the most competitive salaries.

Multi-lingual salaries attract a premium of 10%-15% above English-speaking customer service, shared service, sales or technical support roles. In London, tri-lingual candidates are in vogue and typically command another 5%-7% above bi-lingual salaries. London is the only location that has consistent demand for tri-lingual candidates and this trend is in response to the increased salary costs of hiring multi-lingual staff. Competition for staff is not just at entry-level; experienced multi-lingual agents, team leaders and managers are all in short supply, with shared service and technical support operations showing the greatest demands for skilled staff.

Language demand has been consistent over the past three years with the southern European languages in plentiful supply while Dutch, German and Nordic languages have been the most problematic to hire. In some circumstances, clients are opting to pay slightly higher starting salaries for “hard-to-fill” language roles.

HR departments

Traditionally, human resources (HR) departments were tasked with servicing their internal clients’ needs. From employee relations to industrial relations, maternity leave to long-term disability, disciplinary procedures to induction programmes, the HR function has been the life-blood of many an organisation.






To date HR’s responsibility has been to provide the basic administrative infrastructure that is relevant for the business including payroll, benefits administration, basic training and entry-level hiring. However, it is increasingly common that HR departments are re-engineering their services to deliver cost reduction and process improvements to their customers.

According to a recent Data Dimension survey, organisations are spending 69% of their budget on staff costs. Combine that with attrition rates running at anywhere from 20%-35% in the multi-lingual market and one can see why firms need to employ better methods of identifying, sourcing, hiring and maintaining their workforce.

Unfortunately, too many businesses get caught up in the processes. Under the backlog of administration, businesses often tend to lose their best hiring opportunities. In the majority of cases HR managers have worked with a range of recruitment agencies to source suitable multi-lingual staff for their centres.

HR departments are now under ever-increasing pressure to deliver cost savings from their hiring budget via “direct sourcing” strategies and utilising internal resource to staff-up projects rather than incur third-party fees. HR professionals have been firmly thrust into the high-volume, multi-lingual recruitment marketplace which even seasoned specialist recruiters find fast-paced, administratively burdensome and difficult to master. To compound this problem many HR departments do not have the high-volume staffing expertise, headcount, time or inclination to manage these demanding projects in-house and new recruitment solutions are needed to solve their staffing projects.






Outsourced approach

While many organisations possess “direct hire” and “refer a friend” programmes to reduce their reliance on external fees, many companies have not thought out a strategic medium-term solution to their ongoing staffing requirements. In a market where candidates do not offer employers long-term commitment and attrition is the norm, budgets are being unnecessarily eroded by organisations failing to re-engineer their hiring strategies.

Companies in the multi-lingual market should embrace new staffing methodologies to deliver higher return on investment for their businesses.

No longer do human resources have to advertise, source, sift through CVs, respond to candidates and arrange interviews, this can now be outsourced to a specialist recruitment provider. Conversely, HR departments interested in bringing the complete recruitment function in-house can now turn to specialist recruitment providers that will design an in-house sourcing strategy and recruitment process to achieve this aim.

The benefits of using recruitment process outsourcing over traditional “contingency” recruitment solutions are clear. An HR department can now focus on the human capital side of the business and align itself with the businesses objectives, leaving behind the administrative burdens of multi-lingual recruitment. By outsourcing these processes it no longer pays fees-per-hire, substituting a monthly fee for all the firm’s hiring needs.

Contracting a service provider in this way allows greater control over recruitment costs, time-to-hire and quality of hire, and allows the recruitment process to be streamlined. Using this approach gives companies the flexibility, cost savings and increased candidate pipeline to ensure that they get the best staff on the market when they need them.

Another overlooked advantage of this approach is that firms can hire these staff as temporary employees via the recruitment provider thereby reducing payroll and administration costs even further.

Meet the challenge

To address the challenges posed in the multi-lingual marketplace companies should start by revisiting existing and planned recruitment strategies to ensure that they will generate the maximum possible return on investment.

To achieve this, companies should do two things. First, they should assess their recruitment function to determine:

  • the success of present recruitment process and methodology;


  • the annual recruitment budget;


  • the hiring targets, numbers and required languages;


  • agent responsibilities and skills required;


  • an analysis of induction programmes.

Second, companies should take the information gathered from this assessment to develop a recruitment function that is primarily driven by creating value for the business. When assessing the recruitment function, firms should calculate the average time-to-hire, cost-per-hire and total cost of recruitment, including HR resources, advertising and refer-a-friend schemes. A recruitment plan should be built for the next hiring project using these statistics, calculating when the sourcing strategy is to commence to ensure that resource planning meets the business’s needs.

Businesses need to ensure that they are hiring the correct staff for the vacancies. They should ask themselves whether agents, team leaders or managers need to be graduates. Do they need to be native-level fluent in a particular language? Do they need to be permanent employees? Hiring the correct staff is the first step towards positively impacting attrition levels and to building a successful multi-lingual team.

Faced with a challenging recruitment market for multi-lingual skills and the constant need to deliver more from recruitment investments, there has never been a better time for businesses to rethink their approach to staffing.

Gerry Rockingham is managing director of BeesWax, a specialist European recruitment provider assisting multi-lingual operations streamline their staffing processes. E-mail: E-mail

The BeesWax 2005 multi-lingual salary survey is available via