students on a world map

Going global

UK graduates need to adopt a far more global mindset if they are to compete with their overseas counterparts on the world stage.

A new research project, Global Graduates into Global Leaders, from the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), the Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE) and the research agency CFE, found that external mobility among UK students is low compared to their overseas competitors. 

The research reveals that there are 370,000 foreign students studying in the UK while recent estimates suggest there are only 33,000 UK students studying abroad. Such statistics may say as much about the desirability of studying at a UK university or college but clearly it is also helping to broaden the horizons of overseas students and potentially give them a competitive edge in a difficult jobs market.

The AGR says the UK’s lack of external mobility is also borne out by UK attendance on the EU’s Erasmus education and training programme, that enables 200,000 students to study and/or work abroad each year: only 11,723 UK students took up a place on the programme compared to more than 30,000 from France and Spain each and almost 29,000 from Germany.

Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the AGR, says the fact that UK graduates are lagging behind in this area is a real cause for concern and that there needs to be a collaborative effort to facilitate opportunities for industry to introduce the idea of global business activity as early as possible as well as provide viable opportunities for students to study overseas and experience the global workplace through internships and work placements. He’d also like to see degree programmes include more global employability skills.

“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,” he says.

Key skills for global graduates

Even addressing the issue now though won’t help today’s graduates who are already facing such stiff global competition. For the research, leading employers who together recruit more than 3,500 graduates every year and which include the likes of BP, Shell and Lloyd’s Register, ranked a list of key skills for global graduates.

Skills identified as most important were an ability to work collaboratively with teams of people from a range of backgrounds and countries, as well as excellent communication skills, followed by drive and resilience and an ability to embrace different perspectives. IET asked AGR how engineering students can make themselves more employable on the global stage and a spokesperson highlighted the important of possessing the following key traits (see also Ranking of global competencies by employers, below):

• Commercial awareness: students should ensure that they know what is happening around the world, economically, business, politically;
• Cultural awareness: they should have an understanding and appreciation of working in different cultures;
• Communication skills: they should have an understanding that working in a truly global team must involve good communication skills and an understanding that different modes of communication can impact differently;
• Operational insight: they should have an understanding of how different countries operate and understand the practical side of different time zones.

While there is no doubt a foreign language can help give an individual an advantage when applying for some positions, it was viewed as complementary rather than an essential skill although as AGR points out, if you are physically based in a certain country for a long period of time, it will be necessary to learn the language from a personal and professional prospective.

“But if you are working in multi-language teams, a common language is normally decided on,” says the AGR spokesperson, adding: “However, being able to say hello and thank you in other languages is a great way to break the ice.”

Placements that offer work in another country

Graduates should also find out which programmes are able to offer placements and opportunities to work in another country. Those who earn a place on the Lloyd’s Register graduate scheme, for example, are expected to be globally mobile. The two year programme is followed by a further two years on-the-job surveying to gain Chartered Engineer (CEng) status and UK graduates can rotate across both Europe and the rest of the world.

Jillian Burton, graduate programme manager at Lloyd’s Register, says some candidates are certainly less globally aware than others and says in such cases they hope to see strengths in other areas to counter-balance that.

“Good communication skills, for example, are important no matter where you work but you need to be a good communicator to work well globally,” she says. “We do give our graduates training in communication skills, working with different cultures and adjusting personal style. During the first two years of our scheme they receive soft skills training which further develops these and other skills and therefore they are more prepared for their international assignment. Once they move overseas it’s very much on-the-job training but the culture of Lloyd’s Register is very supportive and everybody here is very friendly and encouraging when it comes to training our staff.”

Technically, the type of work available overseas is different from the UK explains Burton and therefore their overall experience means by the end of the scheme they have seen a broad range of ship types.  

“Their soft skills are also developed as they are also increasing their responsibility and therefore developing their influencing and negotiating skills,” she says. “They have had to work in multi-cultural teams and often with some strong characters in the industry. They are also more confident.”

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