Whether post-Brexit Britain continues to hug continental Europe close or opts to take to the open seas of trade via bilateral deals with far-flung nations, one thing is certain – employers are going to require staff who have the international skills.
But according to Teaching Abroad Direct – a company that arranges overseas teacher placements – a lack of international skills in the domestic workforce is something of an Achilles heel for UK businesses in the era of globalisation. The good news is, however, that those who have acquired those skills through living, working or studying abroad are well placed to thrive.
Drawing on data from a series of labour market reports published by organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry, Pearson and the Economist Intelligence Unit, Teaching Abroad Direct last week published its own analysis of the UK’s requirement for international skills And while the company doesn’t claim that skills, such as fluency in one or more languages, are prerequisite for success in the workplace, they are certainly increasingly important to employers.
As Teaching Abroad spokesman Andrew Lynch explains, recent research has highlighted huge variation between countries in terms of the international experience of students graduates and employees.
“This led us to consider whether students in the UK are at a disadvantage when entering the workforce,” he says.
“In today’s current climate. As British businesses look to pursue opportunities in markets across the globe, it is more important than ever for the UK to develop the talents of its students to the full – otherwise, they risk falling behind, unable to compete.”
Weighing up the Gap Year
Every year, tens of thousands of UK students take a gap year, either before they begin a degree, during the course itself or after graduation. Others choose to study abroad. In terms of personal development, few would argue that a gap year offers individuals a chance to travel at a time in their lives when they are relatively free. Later, when employment, mortgage and family commitments kick in, taking time away is a lot harder.
From an economic perspective, the value of time spent living abroad is hard to judge. In theory, a job candidate who has taught in China worked on aid projects in Africa or simply travelled around Australia doing casual jobs will have amassed a wealth of experience that will be attractive to future employs.
But in an era, where companies are crying out for hard skills, such as maths literacy, coding or simply the ability to sell products and services, the question of whether or not recruiters pay much attention to overseas experience is at the very least debatable.
But here’s the good news for those who have made travel a priority. According to Teaching Abroad Direct’s analysis, 70% of companies believe that in the future, employees will need language and other international skills to succeed in an evolving jobs market.
And there is currently something of a skills deficit. The CBI Pearson Education and Skills Report cited by Teaching Abroad notes that 47% of companies are frustrated by a lack of employee and candidate language skills. Perhaps more surprising, a similarly high percentage – 39% – see lack of cultural awareness as a problem.
But even if an employer – or indeed a vacancy – isn’t particularly internationally focused, the experience acquired through travel or overseas study may still boost employability.
As Teaching Abroad spokesman Andrew Lynch observes.
“Taking an opportunity to travel abroad to work, learn or just explore, will force you to challenge yourself. How you adapt and interact in a foreign land will help you to identify new skills. It will provide a cultural awareness – and an ability to work with people from all backgrounds. You will uncover a global outlook, one which will allow you to better understand clients’ needs and wants moving forward into a global workforce. “
The Employment Boost
But does that feed through to greater employability? Lee Biggins, founder and managing director of online recruitment company CV Library says it does.
“In many cases, employers are relying less on hard skills, and more on the softer skills gained through everyday life. Our own research finds that 80.9% of employers would choose a candidate with experience, over one with a degree, and this experience can be gained in a working environment, through volunteering or other avenues such as working or studying abroad,” he says.
The acquisition of international skills is not solely dependent on having the financial wherewithal – or support from the bank of mum and dad – to take a year out. As teaching abroad points out, universities are increasingly offering their students opportunities to work overseas. Again, drawing on the available statistics, the company says 75% of graduates are offered international experience as part of their studies and the majority had also been given the chance to study abroad or to take part in cultural exchange programmes. Those who seized those opportunities reaped academic and career benefits. Teaching Abroad says they were 9% more likely to gain a first or 2:1 degree and 24% less likely to be unemployed.
Unfortunately, the UK is less internationally minded that some of its trading competitors. Teaching Abroad says around 87% of German and 81% of US students and graduates have opportunities to study or work overseas. In Britain, that is just 62%, suggesting that there is room for improvement on the part of our educational institutions.
Nevertheless, there are countless ways and means to spend time overseas. These range from relatively unskilled work – such as fruit picking or farm labouring – through to voluntary programmes. And if an individual has existing in-demand skills – which might range from medical training to sports coaching experience – there will always be opportunities to see other countries.
“Take advantage of the opportunities that are available to you,” says Andrew Lynch.
“Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. If there are no opportunities within reach: research, speak to people, ask questions, seek out where you can find a role or placement to suit you and what you want to achieve. Curiosity and initiative are key.”