Students are entering the workplace without sufficient “intercultural” skills, says the British Council

Tom Newcombe , 05 Mar 2013


Employers value “intercultural skills” as highly as formal qualifications, but many students are leaving education without any, according to global research published today by the British Council.

The British Council states that intercultural skills include the ability to understand different cultural contexts and viewpoints; demonstrating respect for others; and knowledge of a foreign language.

The research surveyed employers working in public, private, and non-profit organisations in nine countries.

It found that employers recognise a clear business value in employing staff who can work effectively with individuals and organisations from cultural backgrounds different from their own.

Conversely, organisations whose employees lack these intercultural skills are more exposed to risk.

The research found that despite a high demand for intercultural fluency, most employers say that education providers in their countries do not sufficiently develop these skills in students before they enter the job market.

The British Council research, which was published in partnership with consultancy firm Booz Allen Hamilton and research firm Ipsos Public Affairs, showed that employees with these skills are more likely to bring in new clients, work well in diverse teams, and positively support their organisation's brand and reputation.

Jo Beall, British Council director of education and society, said "This research demonstrates a real gap in the education provision across key global economies and the risks an intercultural skills deficit poses to businesses - but equally the great opportunities for education providers and the benefits that job seekers and multinational organisations can gain if we're able to address this issue.

Clifford Young, managing director of Ipsos public affairs' public sector research and political polling in the US, said: "Employees need to know how to work in teams, communicate, and most importantly as the workforce becomes increasingly mobile, they need to have the skills to negotiate different social and cultural environments."

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Something that might help?

Claire Donovan 05 Mar 2013

I worked with others from Sector Skills Councils and training providers a few years ago to formulate and test a framework for establishing 'intercultural competence' in vocational training - As I recall, the apprentices in the test sessions were much better than the recent graduates...

Looking in the all the wrong places?

Tina Quick 12 Mar 2013

How to make universities and their students more globally minded and culturally aware is a frequent discussion on higher ed websites and LinkedIn groups. But there is one population of student that is over-looked time and again. Third Culture Kids (TCKs)/ Global Nomads - students who have spent a significant part of their developmental years outside their passport country. Through their (typically) highly mobile, cross-cultural lifestyles, these students inherently gain cross-cultural awareness and skills, wide world views, languages and foundations to becoming global citizens in every sense of the word. But they go unrecognized and under-valued. Universities don't know how to identify them nor code them, something which could lead to programs that not only address their unique issues, particularly when repatriating for their university experience, and support them in the transition; but also how to use them to lead efforts to learn from diversity (cultural and otherwise) and teach others to embrace it. Given the opportunity these students could potentially teach global skills in and out of the classroom while at the same time highlighting their natural abilities. Unfortunately, because they are over-looked and often thrown into the domestic applications pile and treated as such, TCKs, who often feel more like an international, suffer feelings of alienation and isolation because while they may look and sound like their domestic peers, they don't think or act like them. They have a broad world view which enables them to see things from many different perspectives. They don't fit the mold of the domestic student and can feel badly for not being able to fit in. Find these students, build programs with and for them and then stand back and watch what can be accomplished towards globally educating your students.

TCKs - the often unsung future of global enterprise

Apple Gidley 13 Mar 2013

TCKs, as explained in the previous comment by Tina Quick, respected author of The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition, are indeed often overlooked when they don't quite fit into the boxes provided. TCKs have an inherent cultural radar, and amazing cultural adaptability ideally suited to the global workforce. What is needed is more dialogue between schools, universities, and both private and public enterprise to tap into this valuable resource.

TCKs and CCKs

Maartje Goodeve 14 Mar 2013

I entirely agree with Tina and Apple. I work with TCKs and CCKs professionally and have come to identify that the experiences that TCKs and CCKs have, instill within them the exact qualities that corporations and organizations are looking for in regards the new global leadership skills. TCKs and CCKs are an untapped resource in our world. They have experiences, skills, qualities, talents... that go well beyond the basics of intercultural skills. Like was said above - identify these groups within our education system, present them with the opportunity to give words to their untapped abilities, and watch them soar!!

Charity which encourages cultural exchange

Kimberley Brough 18 Mar 2013

An interesting article, and one which is very relevant to the work done by HOST UK, who arranges cultural exchange days and weekends for both international students and the British people who host them. It's important that students get the cultural exchange whilst they're at university so they don't have difficulties in the workplace.

Huge Opportunity

Amanda Wilby 20 Mar 2013

Great comments above everyone. What I get is that this needs to come much higher on the education agenda than it currently is, and be backed by the resources to deliver it. I have been spoken to a great deal both in the UK and France at grass roots level that parents and teachers do not always understand the value of cross-cultural influence and education. I have heard of teachers in France chastising parents for allowing both English and French to be spoken at home. I have heard Parisian teachers complaining about having up to 12 different languages being spoken in primary classes, and in London, people sending their children to private schools to avoid perceived poor teaching standards that happen in classes where you have up to 18 different languages to deal with. Resources are very squeezed, particularly in inner-city education establishments where migrants are likely to settle. This is both a challenge and an opportunity. As a parent and coach of CCKs I believe more understanding is required from non-TCK/CCK parents and more support and resources given to teachers stepping up to the challenges and opportunities of educating cross-culturally. For me there's also something in here about business becoming more vociferous, directive and financially supportive when it comes to pushing this up the agenda, as we welcome in an new era of globalisation.

IB Schools, TCKs and global leadership skills

Zsuzsanna Tungli 11 May 2013

I have been working with expatriates for over 20 years and have 2 TCKs in our family. I agree that CCKs and TCKs often become culturally sensitive and tolerant. I agree with the statement that these kids often show characteristics we require from today's global leaders. I think the IB (International Bacchelaurete) schools do quite a good job. The student bodies are very international and the approach to people and ideas is very open and understanding. As far as I know, they don't often do cultural sensitivity training but I am working on some ideas how to help parents, teachers as well as students to be culturally effective.

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