Unlocking human potential through learning English

ArcelorMittal / EF Education First

– GOLD WINNER OF THE 2020 EXCELLENCE IN PRACTICE AWARDS –

Those of us in the anglophone business world often take for granted the ability to easily express ourselves and instantly understand everything around us at work. As English has become the undisputed language of commerce and academia, professionals across much of the planet must contend with language and communication obstacles daily on top of maintaining every other facet of their effectiveness at work.

For international companies, effective cross-border collaboration is critical to their success. To survive and thrive in a global, digital economy, they must overcome language barriers to maximise the potential of all their people.

From 2015 to the present day, ArcelorMittal alongside EF Education First has sought to break down these barriers of understanding to unlock human potential and business growth.

Defining the challenge

When Arcelor and Mittal merged in 2007 and later acquired 35 foreign companies, disparate levels of English meant that the full potential of using a common language was untapped. In some areas, language was a barrier to development for both individuals and the business. Employees were not maximizing communication across all geographies equally, which impacted job satisfaction, knowledge transfer, engagement and productivity.

Like most companies, ArcelorMittal has a minimum English requirement to access further development, particularly in leadership, meaning that those who did not meet the standard struggled to realise their full potential. The talent pool was being narrowed unnecessarily and biased towards those who had been brought up in an English- speaking environment. The growth of tens of thousands of employees and the entire organisation was being held back, something which needed addressing urgently in order to embrace inclusivity.

After a few false starts with other providers, ArcelorMittal began working in partnership with EF Education First and rolled out an ambitious English language programme to staff in 53 countries, with over 12,000 courses delivered in total to date. The result has been the development of a common language around topics that affect us all, including sustainability, diversity, the environment and the cyclical nature of business.

“Our business is global and we want to boost performance through facilitating communication across geographically diverse functions. English is an enabler of that,” says Brian Callaghan, Vice President Resourcing, Leadership Development and Learning

Senior commitment as a catalyst

Senior stakeholder commitment from ArcelorMittal at group level was crucial to the success of the global project. The CEO Lakshmi Mittal observed after a gathering of top leaders which included numerous translators that this was becoming a real barrier to future success and that English needed to move from being the “unofficial” to “official” language of the company.

To add even greater weight to the situation, there were clear messages being received at senior levels that it was becoming increasingly difficult to recruit the right talent with all boxes ticked, including language proficiency.

“As the labour market keeps getting tighter, we need to ensure that we capitalise on the talent that we already have internally. We cannot afford to have English as a barrier to advancement into leadership roles. Supporting English language learning allows us to be fully inclusive in resourcing from all areas of our global reach“, says Sergey Ippolitov, Head of Resourcing.

The way forward

As part of the development of this global learning initiative ArcelorMittal and EF co-designed outcomes that could be accurately measured and easily understood by a global audience. They established an ArcelorMittal English Proficiency scale against which employees could be measured and individualised support put in place. Following this, they carefully assessed large cohorts of employees (over 11,000 to date), mapping and analysing their needs to ensure the correct programme design for them.

The programme was deployed with specific attention paid to particular sets of talent: identified talent already on a path to leadership, targeted local initiatives (for example, following an acquisition), and needs analysed through large-scale assessments of the employee population as mentioned above.

Accessibility was key to making this complex L&D initiative sustainable. At the core of this learning and development project is a solution based on 100% digital training delivery available to all, from anywhere, at any time. Unlimited study and assessment are available in the EF English Live virtual school, housed within the ArcelorMittal Online Campus. This includes live trainer access on demand, over 2,000 hours of engaging content, and full functionality on any device.

Interactive lessons provide a variety of task types covering listening, speaking, reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, plus specially created Steel & Mining industry-specific material so learners could practice highly targeted industry scenarios and vocabulary.

From global to local

Translating this global mission into local action was seen as key to the success of the project. Experience on both sides of the relationship had taught the partners how important local knowledge, ownership, and accountability are in order to get the required results and maximum uptake. A global agreement between EF and ArcelorMittal was developed collaboratively, allowing local units to take advantage of economies of scale and ensuring consistency in the programme.

The programme has provided support for learners in all time zones, across 16 languages, through a dedicated EF central team, working alongside local teams in 20 strategic locations who liaise with ArcelorMittal contacts on the ground. This support takes many forms including robust reporting and analysis of KPIs, custom communications to engage learners, and annual learner evaluations translated into seven languages.

“EF has a global reach and is one of the few players on the market who can consistently support our local units. They often travel to meet with key local HR people in our major plants. It feels like a local, tailor-made approach but one that also benefits from having a global contract and resources”, according to Christian Standaert, General Manager of the ArcelorMittal University.

A confident, engaged and productive global workforce

The project has succeeded in reaching thousands of ArcelorMittal employees. It has led to measurable competence improvements for them. In many cases, too, their families have also benefited as the programme has been offered to family members. So far, the programme has delivered wide-reaching impact and multiple interconnected changes, by creating an environment where employees feel that ArcelorMittal is truly investing in their future.

For ArcelorMittal employees involved in this programme, the average proficiency level has increased from A2 (elementary) to B1 (intermediate) on the standard Common European Framework for Reference scale. This means that thousands more employees have become eligible for further development into future leadership or management pathways.

To illustrate this, the most recent cohort in one of ArcelorMittal’s flagship Leadership Development Programmes was more international than ever before, with only 6% coming from a native English language background.

Removing language as a barrier for ArcelorMittal employees has enabled them to be more impactful in their current roles as well, with 93% of those surveyed reporting that they feel more productive at work and 95% of learners reporting that they have saved time at work since taking part. Employees have been able to collaborate and transfer knowledge more effectively, and build stronger relationships with international customers.

This large-scale global language programme is a building block for ArcelorMittal’s global Learning and Development programmes and a key part of their future international success. The ongoing partnership with EF will continue to develop English language learning towards facilitating communication and performance across geographically diverse functions and business endeavours for the world’s largest steel company.

Watch the partnership project video.

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