English is necessary for more jobs in more companies than ever before. Where once English skills were a job requirement in particular roles at particular seniority levels, today, supply chains, technical support, customer contacts, documentation, and management hierarchies all cross national borders. The number of multinational enterprises worldwide rose by 25% between 2006 and 2016. In a 2016 survey, more than 70% of companies in 28 non-English-speaking countries reported that English was important for their business, and 11% said it was the main language used.
Our data indicate another aspect of this trend. While differences in English proficiency still exist between industries, they are primarily at the national level. Worldwide, the gap between the industries with the highest and lowest English proficiency has narrowed enormously. In 2016 it was 19 points; today it is barely 10. This global reduction in skill disparity is entirely thanks to improved proficiency in the weakest industries. More companies are investing in English training, more adults are investing in their own English skills, and more professionals are getting the opportunity to use English at work.
Of all the workplace indicators, job function determines English level most reliably. English levels by job function span all five of our proficiency bands, from very high to very low. This is most likely a recruitment-driven effect of current or past hiring practices. The danger for companies is that instead of one integrated corporate talent pool to develop and deploy, they are creating two parallel classes of employee: an internationally-mobile, English-speaking elite and a locally-limited, non-English-speaking support staff.