Jobs quotas for Asian language speakers

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Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said the business community should allocate a number of graduate jobs for Australian students who can speak an Asian language.

Commenting on the Federal Government's white paper on Asia, which investigates strategies for deepening Australian’s alignment with the region, Rudd told Sky News that it is also up to businesses to incentivise students to learn Asian languages. “They need to know there's a career path for them,” he said.

Rudd commented that if the 100 businesses which make up the Business Council of Australia were each to provide 10 graduate jobs for first class speakers of Asian languages, there’s an incentive for students to learn the skills whilst adding 1,000 to the Australian market.

The government’s white paper called for students to be taught at least one of four Asian languages at high school, naming Mandarin, Japanese, Hindi and Indonesian as the top priority languages.

The paper was well received by business groups – Business Council of Australia (BCA) CEO Jennifer Westacott said it rightly highlights how the rise and growth of Asia presents immense opportunities to lift Australia’s competitiveness and productivity.

“The white paper recognises that to realise the gains from Asia’s rise and growth, Australia must create deeper connections in the region, including through two-way movement of talented people, to broaden the flow of ideas and acquire new knowledge that can underpin enduring prosperity,” Westacott said in a statement.

Jenny Lambert from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) agreed that education and training will play a huge part in preparing Australia to take full advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead. “Australian business accepts that a strong education and training system will lay the foundation for the future,” Lambert said, adding that improving Asian literacy in schools and tertiary institutions should be a priority.

Yet she also commented that these things will not be easy to achieve, and urged governments to address education funding. “Turning vision into reality in the education and training system can often be the most difficult part,” Lambert said. The ACCI called for new and innovative thinking and action as to how students can be engaged to want to learn about Asia and to study the languages of the region. “We can lead a horse to water but we can't make it drink. So it is with students – we need them to want to learn.”

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