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Jon Kennard


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TZ Insight: Are UK graduates equipped to compete in a global marketplace?


Graduates seeking work are being urged to develop ‘global employability skills’ to help them succeed in an increasingly competitive international marketplace. Multinational employers are looking for graduates who can bring something ‘over and above’ core graduate skills. 

In a groundbreaking research project, the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE) and research agency CFE,have explored how businesses define global graduates and what higher education institutions and policy makers can do to develop graduates capable of competing on the international stage.
Leading employers, who collectively recruit over 3,500 graduates each year, across a range of sectors, were asked to rank a list of key skills for global graduates and placed multilingualism low down. While the ability to speak a foreign language is an important skill, it was viewed as a complementary rather than an essential skill. Employers recognise that it is not only linguists who have the potential to become highly sought after global graduates.
The skills identified as the most important by some distance were ‘an ability to work collaboratively with teams of people from a range of backgrounds and countries’ and ‘excellent communication skills’; these were followed by ‘drive and resilience’ and ‘an ability to embrace different perspectives’.
The report profiles the key competencies of a global graduate:
1.     A global mindset – the ability to see the world from a cosmopolitan viewpoint and have an awareness of different cultures and values and how one’s own culture and values differ.
2.     Global knowledge – alongside a global mindset is the need for knowledge of global business activity and specific background knowledge of the economics, history, and culture of different countries.
3.     Cultural agility – the ability to understand the perspectives of individuals from different cultures and backgrounds and to empathise with these views, and respond to them.  And also the ability to cope with and adapt to living in different environments.
4.     Advanced communication skills – the ability to communicate effectively (speaking, listening and presenting) with others from around the world and, where required, communicate in the native language.
5.     Management of complex interpersonal relationships – the ability to manage relationships with diverse teams and clients from across the globe and deal with inherent challenges (e.g. socio-cultural, political).
6.     Team-working and collaboration – the ability to work collaboratively and empathetically with diverse teams from across the globe.
7.     Learning agility – the ability to rapidly assimilate knowledge and develop understanding in order to rapidly respond and adapt to new challenges, circumstances and cultures.
8.     Adaptability, flexibility, resilience, drive and self-awareness – these attributes underpin the above global competencies and are essential, enabling qualities.
The report highlights that external mobility among UK students is low, lagging way behind our international competitors.  There are 370,000 foreign students studying in the UK, and recent estimates suggest there are just 33,000 UK students studying abroad. This is borne out by the fact that the UK has the lowest participation rate for the Erasmus programme in the UK. There were 11,723 UK students who took up a place on the programme in 2009/10, compared with 28,854 in Germany, 30,213 in France and 31,158 in Spain.
The report goes on to look at what schools, higher education, employers, students and government should do to respond to the challenge of developing UK talent into global leaders.
Commenting on the research, David Docherty, Chief Executive, Council for Industry and Higher Education, said:
“A global graduate isn’t simply a highly educated young adult who can speak a foreign language.  Employers want talented graduates who can work with people from different backgrounds and embrace different perspectives.
“Government and educational institutions need to provide the right environments and opportunities for young people to flourish and enable them to develop not only sound employability skills, but a global mindset too.”
Carl Gilleard, Chief Executive, Association of Graduate Recruiters, added:
“Globalised businesses require talent to compete at a global level, and the fact that the UK is lagging behind its competitors in developing graduates who fit the bill is a real cause of concern.  We can either sit back and wait for the BRIC nations to start producing the best global graduates, or we can address this issue now.
“There needs to be a collaborative effort to facilitate opportunities for industry to introduce the idea of global business activity as early as possible; to provide viable opportunities for students to both study overseas and experience the global workplace through internships and work placements; and developing degree programmes to include more of these global employability skills to ensure we’re producing the best talent for multinational employers to recruit from, both for their operations in the UK and further afield.”

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Jon Kennard

Freelance writer

Read more from Jon Kennard

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