Monday, October 31, 2011

Companies Aren't Getting Employees They Need - but We'll Get the English We Need!

The unemployment rate in the USA is 9%. That means lots of people are out there looking for work. Meanwhile, companies are complaining that they cannot find enough skilled worker. A recent Wall Street Journal article discussed this situation -- and it was full of great business English terms for us to study!

We will study part of the article, entitled "Why Companies Aren't Getting The Employees They Need" and written by Peter Cappelli. Idioms and expressions we will examine are in bold:

Even with unemployment hovering around 9%, companies are grousing that they can't find skilled workers, and filling a job can take months of hunting. Employers are quick to lay blame. Schools aren't giving kids the right kind of training. The government isn't letting in enough high-skill immigrants. The list goes on and on. But I believe that the real culprits are the employers themselves. With an abundance of workers to choose from, employers are demanding more of job candidates than ever before. They want prospective workers to be able to fill a role right away, without any training or ramp-up time. In other words, to get a job, you have to have that job already. It's a Catch-22 situation for workers ...

To get America's job engine revving again, companies need to stop pinning so much of the blame on our nation's education system. They need to drop the idea of finding perfect candidates and look for people who could do the job with a bit of training and practice. There are plenty of ways to get workers up to speed without investing too much time and money, such as putting new employees on extended probationary periods and relying more on internal hires, who know the ropes better than outsiders would.

Now let's improve our English by studying some of the terms and expressions used above:

(to) grouse - to complain (a colorful way to say to complain, implying that there is not much basis to the complaint and the person doing the grousing would be better off closing his trap - or mouth - and doing something to improve the situation!).

(to) lay blame - to put the blame on somebody or something else. In English, we don't "give" blame, rather we "lay" it.

(to)go on and on - to continue (like this phrase because the repetition of "on" reflects the situation). We often use this phrase when talking about somebody who doesn't know when to shut his trap - or mouth. Example: "He went on and on at the meeting about what a great job he did. I thought he'd never be quiet."

ramp-up time - time needed to learn how to do a new job well.

Catch-22 situation - a frustrating situation in which one cannot do anything because the thing one needs to take action is the very thing one does not have (in this article, the person who needs a job must already have a job to get a job). Interestingly, the expression Catch 22 comes from a book with that title by the author Joseph Heller.

to pin blame on - to say it's somebody' fault. Okay, so we don't just "lay" blame as above, we also pin it on somebody else. Why so many ways to assign blame in English? Well, I guess we do a lot of blaming in our culture!

get someone up to speed - to train somebody so they know how to do their job well.

to know the ropes - to know how to get things done in a job; to know how things at a company run. This idiom comes from the world of sailing. To be a good sailor, you need to know how to work the ropes. You will also hear the related expressions: "to learn the ropes" meaning to get to know how to do a new job.

Want to keep improving your Business English? Check out Speak Business English Like an American and Speak Better Business English and Make More Money.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Some Business English through Tech Talk

Today we're going to focus on some business English terms used in a recent New York Times article "Sell Big or Die Fast" by Jenna Wortham.

The English we'll focus on is highlighted in bold:

Seven weeks after it was put on sale, Hewlett-Packard killed its TouchPad

tablet, the company’s competitor to Apple’s iPad. Hewlett-Packard killed the TouchPad after 48 days, cut the price and created a buying frenzy. Last year, Microsoft pulled the plug on its Kin mobile phones only 48 days after they went on sale.

In recent years, technology companies have been cutting their losses with increasing speed. Google proudly released Wave, its platform of collaborative work tools, to the general public in May 2010. It canceled Wave 77 days later...

These days, big technology companies — particularly those in the hypercompetitive smartphone and tablet industries — are starting to resemble Hollywood film studios. Every release needs to be a blockbuster, and the only measure of success is the opening-weekend gross. There is little to no room for the sleeper indie hit that builds good word of mouth to become a solid performer over time.

Now let's discuss the vocabulary in the article:

(to) kill a product - to stop making a product (usually because it is a failure - or flop - in the market).

(to) pull the plug on - to stop something; to end something. (Think of pulling the plug of a lamp out of the wall - it goes out)

(to) cut one's losses - to stop doing something because it is likely it will not succeed; to stop doing something before one loses any MORE money.

blockbuster - a big winner; a huge success

sleeper hit - a product, service, movie or other thing that is not popular immediately, but becomes popular over time (often unexpectedly). Note: the "indie" in the article is short for "independent" - typically applied to movies made by a small studio or an individual.

word of mouth - when people talk about a product or service and it then becomes known. An important term in marketing these days, especially with Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

Questions? Comments? Include them in your Comments to this blog post! And if you want to learn more business English expressions, check out the books Speak Better Business English and Make More Money and Speak Business English Like an American. Also the iPhone apps Speak Business English I and Business English Power Verbs.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Business Schools Move to Soft Skills - Good for a Business English Lesson!

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article called "'Soft Skills' Business Courses Aim to Prepare Students for Management Roles." There are many good English expressions in the article.

Before we get into the article further, let's discuss the term "soft skills." Who out there has heard of this expression? It's all the stuff of being an understanding boss, a sensitive manager -- listening to people, empathizing with employees, delegating well. The "hard skills" are things like knowledge of finance, accounting, business strategy ...

Now let's look at a piece of this Wall Street Journal article. Parts we will discuss are highlighted in bold:

Business schools are tapping into their "soft" side. This fall, students at Columbia Business School will be invited to learn the art of meditation. Emotions will run high in Stanford Graduate School of Business' long-running "Touchy Feely" course. And professors at the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business will try to teach students to rein in their type-A personalities, lest they upset fellow classmates ...

Although business schools have traditionally excelled at teaching "hard skills" like finance and accounting, those skills become less relevant as an employee ascends the corporate ladder and moves away from crunching numbers to overseeing employees, companies and experts say.

    Expressions for study:

to tap into - to connect with; to get in touch with; to use as a resource for your own benefit

Example: If you're looking for a job, experts say the best way is to tap into your personal network.

touchy feely - openly expressing emotions, such as affections

Example: Sandy is a touchy-feely manager. She's constantly asking her employees if they need a hug.

Note: This expression is usually used in a somewhat negative way. Although it's nice to be described as sensitive and empathetic, it's less nice to be described as "touchy feely." It implies that there's TOO MUCH affection going around!

rein in - to control; to cut back on

Example: Our marketing budget has gotten too large. We need to rein in ad spending.

type-A personalities - very competitive people, who are often aggressive and very ambitious (often these people can also be described as "workoholics").

Example: John is a real type-A personality. He's always in the office by 6 a.m., never takes vacations, and expects the same from his staff.

corporate ladder - the order of position or title in a corporation. You will often hear this phrase with "climb," ascend" or "work one's way up" in front of it.

Example: Andrew is really working her way up the corporate ladder. At just 30, she's already a marketing director at Procter & Gamble.

to crunch numbers - to perform financial calculations (often complex ones, or for a long period of time)

Example: Joe quit his job as a financial analyst at Donox. He was tired of crunching numbers all day.

And a special note on "crunching numbers" -- people who crunch numbers are, very appropriately, called "number crunchers." In the old days, MBAs were often criticized as being just a bunch of number crunchers. All that has changed now. Or, as this article tells us, is in the process of changing. Corporations don't just want a bunch of number crunchers -- they want sensitive people who know how to lead! More soft stuff, less hard stuff.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

New app for Business English

Check out the new iPhone app - Business English Power Verbs (also available in an iPad version). This app teaches 101 verbs that will help your improve your Business English. There are talking flashcards and two quizzes that let you test your knowledge. Verbs include tout, leverage, monetize, and dozens more that Americans use everyday in the workplace. A good value for just under $5.

Get Business English Power Verbs iPhone/iPod app

Get Business English Power Verbs iPad app

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Better Business English Pays...And So Does Job Loyalty!

We know that learning to speak better business English pays ... and now it turns that job loyalty also pays. That's what career experts say in this recent Wall Street Journal article by Dennis Nishi. (So if you were sitting around thinking "The first thing I'm going to do when the economy improves is find a better job!" then read on). I'm including the beginning of the article below. The business vocabulary we'll study is in bold. Now we'll kill two birds with one stone: learn better Business English AND get some career advice! Here we go:

Daniel Nicholson firmly believes in the value of company loyalty. At 46, the vice president of global quality has worked at General Motors in Detroit for 29 years, though he admits that his longevity isn't the norm.

"When you've been at a company for a long time, you really build a network of people that know what you can do," he says. "They tend to trust you more and that brings opportunity. That's what's worked for me."

After years of layoffs and pay cuts, the thawing job market is giving some frustrated employees an opportunity to jump ship. But career experts say that staying put should be a top option.

"You've already weathered the worst of the recession. If you believe the company can turn it around, why not recommit yourself to your job and see what the hard work that you've already put in can get you?" says Patrice Rice, a Washington recruiter who specializes in the hospitality industry. She says loyalty can open doors to more opportunities, and loyal employees are more likely to keep their jobs.

Now let's review the interesting terms used in the above article.

longevity - the amount of time an employee has worked at a job (in this context, it implies a long time); the word also means lifespan - the length or duration of life

(to) jump ship - to quit a job. Well, a little more colorful than just walking out the front door...suggests that one is really not happy at the job and decides to leave, often without giving much warning

(to) stay put - to remain at a job; to not leave a job. In this bad economy, many people have been afraid to go out and look for new jobs and have instead decided to stay put.

(to) weather - to survive a difficult period (a recession, a downturn, etc)

(to) turn around - to improve things (especially when they are going poorly). This phrase is often used when a new CEO is brought into a poorly performing company -- they're brought in to turn it around.

(to) open doors - to create new possibilities or opportunities