UK graduates must upskill to compete globally, says report

A new report highlighted the skills graduates need to compete on an international stage and warned that UK graduates aren’t looking beyond the border.

It stated that graduates seeking work need to develop ‘global employability skills’ to help them succeed in an increasingly competitive international marketplace.

In the 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 more than 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.

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 highlighted that external mobility among UK students is low, lagging way behind their 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 student exchange programme in Europe. 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.

Commenting on the research, David Docherty, chief executive of the 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.’

He claimed it is up to government and educational institutions 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 of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, said: ‘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 to develop 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.’

The full report, Global Graduates into Global Leaders, is available here.