In my engineering organisation I have one employee (machinist) having 25 years service at same set up. He is the most skilled and dedicated worker with an exemplary attitude who can be assigned to any job regarding his trade. Despite such expertise, skill & experience, he cannot be promoted from the workers category to the supervisor category due to organisational promotion policy.

As per policy from promotion of charge hand to AFM (Assistant Foreman), a technician has to qualify following criteria.

  1. Minimum 20 years service

  2. Passing a written exam with 50% marks having 50% overall weighting

  3. Practical exam with 20% weighting

  4. Verbal exam to check for knowledge with 20% weighting

  5. Annual assessment of last 5 years with 10% weighting.

A worker fulfilling the above criteria is promoted to AFM and FM strictly on merit.

Unfortunately the worker I am talking about cannot qualify the written exam due to being very weak in English. Other technicians of his enrollment era with relatively less skill have already been promoted to Foreman. He has 10 years remaining service and as he cannot pass the written exam, he will have to retire in the same grade.

I feel that it is not fair that a worker of this caliber cannot be promoted due to being weak in English. I want to take up his promotion case with my managing director. Please advise me on which stance I should convince my MD to relax our rules and promote him as an exclusive case.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Dec 4, 2018 at 21:46
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    Apparently I don't have enough rep to rollback an edit. However, the last edit changed the question narrowing it inot the direction of the answers. That's not making it better, that's biasing it. Also, it invalidates all the answers, because now they are just repeating the question.
    – DonQuiKong
    Dec 5, 2018 at 7:36
  • Very few numbers of employees are so much dedicated to the service that they even sacrifice their personal priorities. He is one of such guy who did not even improve his English which is mandatory requirement for his promotion
    – Ahmad Raza
    Dec 5, 2018 at 13:39
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    @AhmadRaza the fundamental question you have not addressed - Does he want the promotion? Have you asked him? Be sure that he wants it before you try to push it on him.
    – Ben Barden
    Dec 5, 2018 at 13:55
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    If he is an engineer presumably he is intelligent; is there a reason he simply can't learn English to the standard required by the exam?
    – ESR
    Dec 6, 2018 at 4:58

9 Answers 9


From your comments:

Actually management has make promotion exam in english to enhance Englsh understanding better which helps to understand technical orders mainly in English

This sounds to me as if there is a valid business reason why the role requires a decent understanding of English.

Rather than arguing for an exception why not approach the worker like so:

I really think you've got the skills and experience to do very well in the Foreman position which would be a good promotion for you. Unfortunately your English level is currently too low for you to pass the exam. Have you ever thought of taking some online/night/weekend classes to try and improve your English?

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    More than this, I'd look for some company funding or at the very least paid time to learn and take the exams. It's not unusual for professional qualifications, and if it's company policy that English is required it seems like the company should train people.
    – pjc50
    Dec 3, 2018 at 17:01
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    I agree with @pjc50 about seeking company-funded training. This worker has paid his dues; it's not like he's gonna say "thanks for the classes, later suckers!" and bail after 25 years. Such training will have benefits to the company -- increased efficiency (due to better communication between him and his colleagues), fewer errors (due to fewer mistranslations or misunderstandings), and improved employee morale (primarily for him, but colleagues seeing that the company is willing to invest in its employees will feel better too).
    – Doktor J
    Dec 3, 2018 at 18:13
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    You have very valid reservation I will consider these points while taking up his case
    – Ahmad Raza
    Dec 4, 2018 at 1:48
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    @DoktorJ I agree wholeheartedly - tbh I thought I'd read a comment from the OP that the company wouldn't organise/pay for it but can't find it now. Possibly I'm thinking of another question!
    – motosubatsu
    Dec 4, 2018 at 10:54
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    A person doing well as a machinist does not mean they'll be a good supervisor. A machinist works with machines. A supervisor works with people. This is classic case of Peter Principal (Promotion into Incompetence).
    – Nelson
    Dec 5, 2018 at 6:18

Why do you need to promote him to the supervisor's category?

What you've said is that he's an excellent engineer. Great. He's also pretty bad at English. Okay. In his current position, his lack of ability at English isn't slowing him down. As a supervisor, it would be. Further, he has to know this. If he was really motivated to be a supervisor, he probably would have put some more effort into learning English sometime within the past five years.

So if he isn't super-motivated to be a supervisor, and he has a weakness in his skill set that would hamper him as a supervisor but doesn't slow him down where he is... maybe he shouldn't be a supervisor.

Of course, that still leaves you where you are, where this particular worker is more dedicated and skilled than you'd expect out of anyone who wasn't a supervisor. He's a special case in that. So... why not try to address it from that direction? Instead of trying to push him through as a supervisor, try get the man a bit more money (as raise or in bonuses) in the slot that he's in - the one in which he's shown particular excellence.

Really, the worst thing that could happen here would be if you promoted him and (due to lack of skill in English) he wasn't successful. Then you've gone from having an excellent engineer to having a mediocre-at-best supervisor (quite possibly with plummeting morale), and that's no good for anyone.

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    You could also ask that a special title be created for this person, in recognition of his extraordinary skills, and with a payscale equivalent to the supervisor role. Say, "Senior Machinist". It may not work, but it might start some wheels turning at higher levels of your company.
    – Peter
    Dec 3, 2018 at 21:51
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    Yes I actually want such type of privilege for such guys who sacrificed their precious time for the company and ultimately did not get even next promotion
    – Ahmad Raza
    Dec 4, 2018 at 1:47
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    Aye, we must be careful not to sabotage a perfectly happy worker by making a Peter Principle of them - particularly if they're already disinclined to move out of a position they enjoy and have remained in deliberately.
    – J...
    Dec 4, 2018 at 11:02
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    @AhmadRaza Yes - if you take up this discussion, consider that virtually all tech companies worth their salt nowadays have a rank progression in technical roles in addition to the traditional "worker -> manager" progression. There are (many) people who are excellent workers but horrendous managers. If these people never can progress, what's the point of being an excellent worker?
    – xLeitix
    Dec 4, 2018 at 11:04
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    @ClaudiuCreanga Promoted != Rewarded. For a lot of people, promoting them is a terrible idea that would be bad for all involved. Not everyone wants to be promoted - I think you've an impossible task proving the opposite. I think the point is that rewarding a good employee needn't always take the form of a promotion - especially if it promotes them to a job they'll hate and be bad at. Setting someone up for failure is a pretty crappy "reward". Promotion is for people whom you identify as having skills that are being wasted in their current position.
    – J...
    Dec 4, 2018 at 11:59

If this person truly is a valuable asset to your company, I would suggest partnering with him and having the company provide paid rudimentary training in English for him. Depending on the size of your company, it might also promote goodwill within the employees to offer this to anyone interested. If orders are given in English, I would think that having multiple employees being able to understand the orders as-given would be an asset. Maybe have a tutor brought in and provide training during lunches or other time so your employees can learn (if they wish), and not take significant time away from their regular duties.

Though I would suggest trying to make sure that the English tutoring be targeted towards the specific needs of the job and exam. There is likely little need to go into the whole complexity of the English language if a subset of the language is sufficient for the orders and tasks at hand.

  • I have noted your valuable suggestion and would definitely consider it
    – Ahmad Raza
    Dec 5, 2018 at 14:53

Based on the phrasing of your OP I'm presuming you are above this person in your organization, so this answer is written from that perspective.

Have you considered asking this employee his opinion? Mention to him that you think he would make a good supervisor, and you would be happy to promote him if he improved his English, and see what he says. If he commits to improving his English, then you should assist him in any way you can to do so. However, there's a possibility he's just happy where he is; after all it's been 25 years and he hasn't complained at all so far (or at least if he has you didn't include it in your OP). Maybe he just doesn't want to put in the effort, and he's happy just being an engineer.

In either case, probably you should start by asking him what his aspirations are and go from there.

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    +1. That is precisely the answer to the question I would give. Some people just don't want to be promoted for various reasons. Make sure he isn't one of them before making him unhappy by enforcing his promotion. If he wants to, provide all required support to make him meet the promotion criteria.
    – Ister
    Dec 4, 2018 at 8:48
  • When I was in the US Army years ago, I stayed at the rank of Specalist because I didn't want all the added responsibilities, time sink, training, etc. that a promotion would involve. Granted, I wasn't interested in staying in longer than my initial enlistment, but not everyone wants a lead/supervisor/management position. Also, just because someone is really good at their job, it doesn't mean they will be good at managing others. Dec 4, 2018 at 18:26

Not everybody who is a good worker is also necessarily a good supervisor.

The oral exam most likely doesn't test knowledge at all but covertly tries to assess the presence of soft skills in prospective supervisors. For the same reason, most likely, the annual assessments are weighted in to get an impression not on the quality of work, but on the "overall thing", how a person interacts in the work process and with the immediate supervisor, if there's friction, etc.

If being a supervisor was about skill and knowledge, the requirement of a minimum of 20 years of service alone would be enough. You cannot do a job for 20 years without acquiring skill and knowledge (not unless all your supervisors are complete idiots, or unless you are a public officer who cannot be fired unless caught committing a crime).
If you are in a job for 5-10 years and you show no signs of serious competence, you soon find yourself out of a job at the next restructuring occasion. Thus, 20 years is pretty much a guarantee on skill, no test necessary.

The exams are in English, which suggests that English is a language that is being spoken in that company. Obviously, for a supervisor being able to communicate properly with his subordinates, he should be fluent in that language. The written test, too, most likely doesn't verify knowledge, at least not primarily. Again, knowledge is not so much a dominating factor for someone with 20 years of experience.
You can, however, use a written test to assess language skills and the general ability to identify and analyze problems, and to find appropriate solutions (and many other things, it depends on how exactly the test is conceived).

So... hard as it sounds, no matter how well this guy does his job and no matter how diligent and nice he may be. If he cannot do the test, then he probably simply isn't qualified as supervisor.


The company policy on English language skills with the reason given is a worthy policy, but in this case it goes contrary to company goals.

Obviously, the goals of the promotion rules are to ensure that qualified personal gets promoted. The goals of the English requirement are different from that (development of people). If the two goals conflict, the more important one should take precendence and this worker and his skills need to be used to the greatest advantage of the company.

Allow for exceptions to the English rule, while keeping them exceptions, allows both goals to be followed in the optimal way. Insisting too strictly on the language rule is to the disadvantage of the company.

In essence: You argue using company goals and company benefits as the primary arguments. The fact that the worker deserves something is irrelevant in your argument, but that the company is missing out on advantages cannot be ignored.


Since there is no requirement stated in the policy for him to be fluent in English, have the exams translated into his native language. Provide technical interpreters if required.

This should be no more of a barrier than a no-impact disability.

He may enough English to provide direction, but I would think after 25 years, he has that. Possibly German as well, the nouns are generally always picked up. (Kardan, Kolben, Kupplung, etc.)

  • As per existing policy one has to clear test in English no other translator or question cannot be provided in other languages
    – Ahmad Raza
    Dec 5, 2018 at 14:59

Unless all his coworkers speak his minority language then this is the wrong way to reward him. Making him foreman would be a disaster since he would be unable to communicate properly and you would also lose your best machinist.

Your best avenue of reward is to increase his pay. Not to make his work harder, responsibilities more and set him up for failure.


You certainly can circumvent policy for his merit and in this case I would be a bit inclined to say its justified given that he makes a good fit for the role, assuming that his non-knowledge of English isn't a pre-requisite of that role and he would only need English to take the test.

Beware though that special rules and favorable treatment (no matter how deserving it seems to you) may open an entirely new can of worms down the line, as others may feel they are special enough to have preferential treatment as well.

As such you should be very delicate over how you treat this case to not leave room for misinterpretation and/or hurt feelings from fellow workers. Overall, a better solution would be, in case English knowledge isn't required for the foreman role to change the policy for everyone, so people may take the tests in other languages as well.

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