By Arwyn Workman Youmans
– Searching for summer employment is a stressful endeavour for many students, especially when on top of qualifications and availability one also has to factor in the language they speak. In many countries this is the harsh reality of summer employment that leaves some students unemployed and in precarious financial situations. But while this may be the case elsewhere, a different narrative plays out each year in the Netherlands as employment opportunities for English-speaking students seem endless.
So why are so many Dutch companies hiring employees who do not speak the native language? The answer, it would seem, is that a majority of Dutch citizens are quite comfortable with the English language.
Former exchange student Brontë Creighton-Shaw, who came to Amsterdam University College (AUC) this past year from New Zealand, found that finding employment while studying was no more difficult than at home. Creighton-Shaw worked at Cold Pressed Juicery from September until the end of January 2019 and was assured by her bosses that her inability to speak Dutch would not be an issue.
Clare Scanlon, an AUC exchange student from Ireland who has been living and working in the Netherlands since October 2018, experienced a similar ease in finding employment. Scanlon works at Drop and Go, a luggage storage service for tourists in Amsterdam, and she said that although the position was not advertised as being available to English-speaking candidates, her employers found no issue with her lack of proficiency in Dutch.
According to Education First’s English Proficiency Index, the Netherlands was, in 2018, one of the most fluent countries in the world in English outside of the Anglosphere with an average of 70 percent of the population able to speak the language. Other sources claim as high as 90 percent. Due to the high level of English proficiency among locals, language is no longer a barrier for international students finding employment during their studies. The Education First report notes that English is quickly becoming a basic skill for the entirety of the global workforce and is already considered a basic requirement for employment in the Netherlands, making the country a uniquely accessible labour market for English speakers.
More than ever, international students are taking advantage of the abundance of universities offering English language bachelor’s degree programmes – which means more English speaking students looking for work. In 2016, StudyPortals reported that around 5670 English language degrees were offered in countries where English was not a primary language. In the Netherlands, there are about 300 English language undergraduate degrees offered at more than 40 universities.
Iamsterdam, run by Amsterdam&partners, the city’s marketing organisation, includes advice about finding employment when living in the Netherlands. Notably, the section is not only available in English, but also specifies which employment agencies only require English.
Although being limited to only speaking English does not seem to have a negative effect on job searches, English speakers should still be aware of the possible negative effects of not speaking Dutch in their workplaces. At times, Creighton-Shaw found her lack of Dutch could be problematic with some customers. “A fair [amount of] older people spoke little to no English and would sometimes make comments like, ‘You shouldn’t be working in the Netherlands if you don’t speak Dutch’,” she said.
Scalon also experienced difficulty fitting in with her co-workers as many are native Dutch speakers and prefer to use the language when speaking with each other.
Klaas Schoenmaker, a third-year Sciences major and native Dutch speaker who was recently employed by Bunq, a Dutch mobile bank, noted that some workplace issues resulted from working with non-Dutch speakers. “The company actually had to create a Wiki page that specified how exactly Dutch people can behave and how direct they can be, and the other way around [there was] a piece about Dutch people having to be more conforming with other cultures,” he said. Schoenmaker said that Bunq went so far as to actually encourage employees to speak solely in English while at work.
While there appears to be little pressure to become multilingual, some are finding they cannot help but absorb some of their host country’s language. By making it possible for unilingual English students to study and work in the Netherlands, the openness of the country has also made it easier for those same students to be exposed to a different language. Creighton-Shaw found her employment to be a means to learn basic phrases and improved her understanding of the language, a benefit she says she might not have received if the country had not allowed her to live here while speaking her native tongue.
Editor’s note: This news story is part of a collaboration between The Herring and AUC’s journalism course. The story was entirely reported, written, edited, and fact checked by members of the journalism course. Some material may have been altered by The Herring’s editors to fit its style guidelines.