Experiencing a range of activities while living and working abroad help people to become adept at dealing with different cultures and thriving in a global economy, according to new research.
Those who gain experience from activities such as school exchange programmes, voluntary organisations, studying in another country and working abroad can end up being more confident and innovative, the study from the British Council suggests.
A survey of UK residents conducted as part of the research found that the vast majority of those with international experience felt it had helped them to develop a number of skills considered important to the contemporary workplace. It also found substantial evidence that involvement in international experience helped to shape participants career paths.
Over 80% were confident in their ability to adapt to new and unfamiliar situations, crediting their time overseas as a significant factor in acquiring this ability, compared to 70% who did not have international experience.
A large majority of people with international experience described themselves as having abilities needed for innovation, including strong analytical and critical thinking skills and strong problem solving skills.
People with experience overseas believed that this had helped them to develop such skills and seven out of 10 were confident communicators, able to work well with people from other countries and cultures.
While only 26% were confident in their ability to speak a foreign language, they felt their time abroad had helped substantially in achieving this level of confidence. Fewer than one in ten with no international experience felt they were proficient in a foreign language.
Over half of those who had attended university overseas felt the experience had helped them find a job that interests them. Close to half of those who had spent time abroad were involved in innovation within the workplace including research and development and product improvement activities, compared with around a quarter of those with no international experience.
Those with international experience were more likely to be in roles with an international focus, with 60% liaising with international colleagues, suppliers and customers, compared with less than 30% of those without international experience.
The report suggests that international experience and skills are increasingly important in ensuring individuals succeed in a globally competitive labour market and in enabling employers to increase innovation, a key factor in driving productivity.
It recommends that more should be done in the UK to encourage people to gain experience abroad by policymakers and employers. This could include working together to develop educational policy that supports increased ability for young people to learn languages and participate in international programmes within the curriculum, and employers enabling international experience as part of their development planning for staff.
It also calls for more opportunities for work placements with employers investing in programmes that give individuals opportunities to gain work experience overseas at all stages of their careers.