Thinkopolis VII: How relevant is bilingualism to your career in Canada in 2015? [Report]

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Currently, 8.8% of Canadian job postings require candidates to be fluent in both official languages. There has been a slight (2%) decrease in job postings requesting candidates be bilingual in English and French since 2007.

While 41% of the candidate resumes in the Workopolis database are for people who are fluent in more than one language, most of these are for other combinations than English and French. Only 11% of Canadian candidate resumes on Workopolis list fluency in both English and French.

Just over half (59%) of candidate resumes list fluency in only one language, 30% are fluent in two and the remaining 11% know three or more languages.

The millions of candidate resumes on Workopolis include fluency in 90 different languages.

If you look at Canadians outside of Quebec, an equal number of people list fluency in Mandarin and other Chinese languages and in Hindi as claim fluency in French as a second language.

Given these numbers, we asked Canadians how they felt about bilingualism in Canada in 2015. Over 8,000 English-speaking respondents said:


Is bilingualism still relevant in Canada?

  • No, the world functions in English now – 42%
  • Yes, English and French are essential – 31%
  • Yes, but not necessarily English and French anymore – 27%

However, when we polled our French-speaking users, the vast majority of whom reside in Quebec, the answers were quite different.


Is it necessary to be bilingual in order to succeed in Quebec?

  • No, knowing French is enough – 16%
  • Yes, French and English are both essential – 75%
  • Yes, but not necessarily with English as the second language – 9%

So the Workopolis team analyzed millions of resumes and job postings to calculate the value of English and French bilingualism in job markets across the country. We also took a look at trends in the supply and demand for other languages by region and sector.

Finally, we’ve created an interactive map showing where your language skills provide you the greatest competitive advantage in Canada right now.


Part I: The job market for Canada’s official languages

As we mentioned, when looking at Canadian resumes at the beginning of 2015, of all job seekers only 11% identified themselves as fluent in both English and French.

Not surprisingly, Montreal has the highest amount of bilingual workers – in fact, 50% are from the Montreal area. The next largest is the Greater Toronto Area with 12%, followed up by Ottawa-Gatineau with 10%. There is a large drop off after these three cities, with Metro Vancouver as the next highest at just 4%.

Of all Canadian job postings in 2014, 8.8% required French-English bilingualism. However the demand for workers fluent in both official languages varies widely by region and industry. And as bilingual workers are also unevenly distributed, French and English language skills provide candidates with a greater competitive advantage in some areas than others.

On average job postings requiring bilingual candidates receive 20% fewer applications than do similar jobs not requiring a second language. Bilingual applicants face much lower competition for jobs. This is especially pronounced in Ontario where job postings requiring bilingualism actually receive 39% fewer applications than comparable jobs that don’t ask for French language skills.

The top job categories in which bilingual candidates have less competition for roles are Admin and Clerical (55% fewer applications for jobs requiring a second language vs. comparable roles), Accounting and Finance (50% fewer applications), Human Resources (44% fewer applications), Training and Education (40% fewer applications), and Customer Service (37% fewer applications).

The top 10 jobs where bilingual candidates have a competitive advantage

  • Billing Administrator
  • Collections Clerk
  • Financial Administrator
  • Technical Support / Customer Service
  • Human Resources Advisor
  • Marketing Coordinator
  • Systems Administrator
  • Recruitment Consultant
  • Administrative Assistant
  • Sales Representative

Where bilingual workers are the most in demand

Want to put your fluency in English and French to work for you on the job market? By comparing the supply of bilingual opportunities with the available supply of bilingual workers by city, we measured how much a candidate will have to compete for opportunities across the country. Each city’s ranking should give an indication of how easy it would be for a bilingual job seeker to find a job based on their language skills.

So while Montreal actually has the most job postings requiring bilingual workers of any city in Canada, it comes in third on our competitive scale because of the correspondingly high volume of bilingual candidates competing for those roles. Therefore being bilingual is essential to getting hired in Montreal, but it doesn’t provide the same competitive advantage in that market as it does in Toronto or Guelph where there are proportionally fewer candidates for the available jobs.

Regina is perhaps a surprise contender to make the top ten list, however it is a city with a relatively high number of bilingual job postings with low competition for these jobs.

So here is a look at Canada’s top twenty cities where the demand for workers with bilingual skills in job postings outpaces the supply of candidates available listing fluency in both English and French in their resumes.

The top twenty job markets in Canada for bilingual job seekers

    1 Toronto, Ontario
    2 Guelph, Ontario
    3 Montreal, Quebec
    4 Kitchener, Ontario
    5 Fredericton, New Brunswick
    6 Hamilton, Ontario
    7 Regina, Saskatchewan
    8 Moncton, New Brunswick
    9 Halifax, Nova Scotia
    10 London, Ontario
    11 Ottawa, Ontario
    12 Brantford, Ontario
    13 Quebec City, Quebec
    14 Saint John, Newfoundland
    15 Winnipeg, Manitoba
    16 Vancouver, British Colombia
    17 Oshawa, Ontario
    18 Edmonton, Alberta
    19 Kingston, Ontario
    20 Cornwall, Ontario

In many areas, highlighting fluency in both official languages gives candidates a distinct advantage in getting hired. It becomes a question of supply and demand. When the need for a skillset is greater than the supply on the market – opportunities and increased wages follow.

A 2012 report from the Conference Board of Canada showed that Francophones earn more than the average Canadian – when they live outside of Quebec. “Proficiency in both official languages can pay big dividends,” said Mario Lefebvre, director of the Centre for Municipal Studies at the Conference Board and author of the study. “In communities with a limited number of French speakers you’re a scarce resource. If you’re a limited resource, you will be welcome wherever you go.”

In 2010, economics professors Louis Christofides and Robert Swidinsky from the University of Guelph researched how much knowing both of Canada’s official languages can boost your pay cheque. Their study found that people in Quebec who are fluent in English and French earn an average of 7.5% more than unilingual Francophones.

Outside of Quebec, men who speak both official languages earn an average of 3.8% more than people who speak only English. These dividends are even higher for bilingual women who earn an average of 6.6 per cent more.

Second language skills amongst the top resume lies

Employers routinely tell us that number three on the list of most common resume lies that candidates make is Exaggerated Second Language Skills. Candidates with a conversational knowledge of a second language often claim to have native fluency. This is particularly true of people with Canada’s high school French skills applying for jobs requiring written bilingualism.

Don’t claim to have fluency in a language if you can’t produce error-free written texts in it. Being hired for a job that you can’t actually do is worse for your career than not being hired. For many roles, conversational language skills can still be an asset. Be sure to highlight these on your resume whenever relevant.

[The other top resume lies are Education (candidates claiming credentials for a program they may have attended, but never graduated from) and Dates of Employment (masking resume gaps by stretching out tenure at past jobs.)]

So as the majority of job postings don’t require candidates to be bilingual, knowing English and French isn’t essential for working in Canada. However, those who do have fluency in both languages have access to more opportunities, face less competition for roles, and earn higher wages.

Part II: The demand for other languages than English and French

About 1% of job postings refer to a language other than English and French. In 2006, Spanish was the most commonly requested other language than French. Today it has fallen to the number two spot behind Chinese languages – Cantonese and Mandarin.

While Mandarin/Cantonese language group are the most in-demand in advertisements for the majority of jobs requiring a second language other than English or French, there are some exceptions. The technology and digital media field has Spanish as the most requested language. Chinese is tops in Healthcare, but Russian comes in second.

Italian is the most requested language in hospitality job ads, at least partially driven by the demand for authentic Italian chefs.

Spanish and German followed by Chinese languages, are the most sought-after second languages in engineering and the skilled trades.

Other language fluencies in Canadian Resumes

While 41% of the resumes in the Workopolis database are for people who are fluent in more than one language, most of them are for people fluent in other language combinations than English and French. When we look at the resumes of people who are fluent in at least two languages with one being English, we see that 25% of them have French as a second language.

For the vast majority of bilingual French resumes, English is their second language. If we remove that combination, only roughly 7% of multilingual people fluent in French list proficiency in another language than English.

The top 10 languages/language groups identified as being combined with English (not including French) is heavily influenced by contemporary immigration trends in Canada.

Chinese languages are grouped together in this analysis. Mandarin is among the top second languages in resumes and combined with Cantonese forms the most common language grouping for Canadians other than French.

South Asian languages (Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Gujarati, Tamil) were also a leading group of languages. These two language groups are spoken by large, thriving communities in the Greater Toronto Area and Metro Vancouver, where the unique communities that speak the constituent languages generally live, work, and do business together. These languages are also spoken by many first and second generation Canadians living in other major and smaller cities across Canada.

The top 10 language groups combined with English (not including French):

    1 Mandarin/Cantonese
    2 Hindi
    3 Spanish
    4 Punjabi
    5 Tagalog
    6 Urdu
    7 Arabic
    8 Russian
    9 Gujarati
    10 Tamil

The top 10 languages/language groups identified as being combined with French (not including English) have a very different composition than the English-combinations. The influence here seem to be much more influenced by European languages.

In particular and not surprisingly, the other major Romance Languages (Spanish, Italian, Romanian, and Portuguese) are frequent second languages of French speakers. There is also likely an influence from well-established communities in Montreal as well (especially the Italian community). At the top of the list is Arabic, ahead of all of the European languages. This is also not surprising based on Quebec’s shared history of French colonialism with Arabic-speaking nations, and contemporary immigration patterns in France.

The top 10 language groups combined with French (not including English):

    1 Arabic
    2 Spanish
    3 Italian
    4 Romanian
    5 Mandarin/Cantonese
    6 Portuguese
    7 German
    8 Russian
    9 Greek
    10 Haitian

As alluded to earlier, there are many diverse communities in Canadian cities where the most common language of business may not always be one of the official languages. Knowing this, it is not surprising to fin that the top other-language job seeker groups are not necessarily evenly distributed throughout Canada.

For example, here’s a look at where the candidates who speak Mandarin and other Chinese languages live:

    1. Greater Toronto Area (42%)
    2. Metro Vancouver (28%)
    3. Calgary (9%)
    4. Montreal (4%)
    5. Edmonton (3%)

Seven cities (Winnipeg, Ottawa-Gatineau, Waterloo Region, Hamilton, Halifax, Victoria, London) make up the next 9%.

Of all English job postings that are looking for seekers with fluency in a language other than French, 28% are looking for Mandarin or Cantonese. These jobs are concentrated in Ontario (53%) and BC (29%), with Quebec (9%) and Alberta (6%) also providing some opportunities.

These jobs closely match where the supply of potential workers is actually located.

The types of roles employers are looking for that require this language group are well distributed, with 64% of these roles spread among Financial Services, Customer Service, Healthcare Services and Wellness, Sales and Business Development, Administrative and Clerical, and Hospitality and Food Services.

For a detailed look at the supply and demand for workers speaking other languages across the country, please consult this interactive map.

Part III: [Interactive] See where your language skills provide you the greatest competitive advantage in Canada

Use the top menu to consult tables for demand by industry and for the proportions of other languages than English and French in Canadian resumes and job postings.

View the infographic

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