A report out today suggests that students in the UK are not what the country needs in order to remain competitive in the global economy. The Global Skills Gap report by the British Council warns that the “UK economy risks losing global competitiveness”.
Although the research is making headlines, including on the BBC, is anyone really that surprised? I’m not.
The report was compiled off the back of a survey of 500 business leaders. So what were their conclusions?
• Recruiting staff who can “think globally” is crucial for multi-national companies
• 75% of the leaders fear the UK is going to be left behind because of the lack of recruits with international awareness
• The UK is in danger of being taken over by countries such as China, India and Brazil who produce more ‘worldly’ recruits
• 74% warned that in the UK young people’s “horizons are not broad enough” for a globalised economy
• 35% of multinational firms find it difficult to recruit employees of the calibre they need
• Business leaders suggest that schools are too worried about exam results and league tables not “about the wider world beyond the school gates and beyond our shores”
• If UK students do not have the skills wanted by multinational employers then “highly skilled and highly paid jobs will be increasingly taken by young people in countries other than the UK”
• Young people in the UK risk being confined to low-paid jobs or being out of work
This is a massive issue for UK PLC. It should not be underestimated. School leavers and graduates from many countries leave with a good standard of education, speak another language(s), are conscious and aware of the outside world and appreciate the need to be competitive in every way. They are armed and hungry!
So what’s the solution? Well three very simple places to start are 1) language, 2) our immigrant population and 3) topics at school.
In the UK we are notorious for our appalling lack of language skills. The uptake at school and then at university has been dropping consistently over the years. There is a complete lack of emphasis on the importance of knowing another language. In order to produce young people that think and act global we need to start with language. The evidence is clear that learning a language broadens the mind in terms of cultural know-how, empathy, out-of-the-box thinking, etc. We should be demanding from our schools that each and every leaver leaves with French, Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, Arabic or Japanese [and any others].
In addition to this, why are we not taking advantage of the languages spoken in immigrant homes such as Mandarin, Somali, Urdu, Arabic, Polish, etc? Immigration should be used to benefit the UK at home and abroad. These children hold massive potential in that they are naturally cross-cultural, they are multilingual and they do have something to offer us in terms of our position in the global economy. We are not capitalizing on this. Children are brought up thinking their food, language, etiquette and values are for “the home” and not for the global workplace. Wrong.
How many schools do you know that teach international business? How many school leavers would know what ‘BRIC’ means? How many appreciate how inter-reliant all the world’s economies are? How many are encouraged to be entrepreneurial, think globally, explore the international scene, etc? How many have used social media such as Facebook and Twitter as a platform to look at all the above? The answer is not many. The education system needs to catch up and catch up fast in order to ensure this generation have a voice.
In conclusion, the report reveals nothing of any surprise but what it does do is highlight the fact that if we are to remain globally competitive in the next 100 years, we need to address these issues now.
by +Neil Payne