An international education is linked with people developing 11 out of 15 critical skills needed for employment in today’s workplace, new research has found.
Studying abroad for longer periods of time has a high impact on subsequent job offers and career advancement as well as the development of foreign language and communication skills.
The study from the Institute of International Education (IIE) found that among alumni who studied abroad for one academic year, 68% found it contributed to a job offer or promotion, compared to just 43% who studied abroad for fewer than eight weeks.
At the same time, stronger gains in teamwork skills were reported by students who took part in short term programmes, which tend to be more structured and team oriented than longer term programmes where students might pursue more independent experiences.
For the study, IIE developed a specific list of 15 soft and hard skills drawn from competencies identified as being most desired by 21st century employers, and explored their link to study abroad.
IIE reports that study abroad contributes to the development of transferrable skills and positive employment gains, with the impact varying according to programme characteristics, study destinations, and the students’ goals.
The survey looked at what specific features of study abroad programmes contribute to career success, in order to help educators better develop programs that prepare students for the global workforce.
Among science majors that went on a programme outside of the sciences, 47% reported their study abroad contributed to a job offer, whereas among those who went on a science- focused experience only 28% reported it contributed to a job offer.
More than half of the survey respondents reported that they believe their study abroad experience contributed to a job offer at some point. Among interviewees who were not sure or who did not believe that studying abroad contributed to a job offer, most still believe that the skills gained through study abroad had proven relevant and useful throughout their careers, particularly as they were promoted to management level positions where communication, interpersonal skills, and the ability to understand and work with difference were key criteria for promotion.
Those more advanced in their careers more consistently linked study abroad to career growth and reported being hired or promoted based on skills developed through international experience. Several respondents also indicated that study abroad opened career pathways and opportunities they had not previously considered.
‘In today’s globally interconnected economy, most students will develop careers where they work for or do business with international companies,’ said Allan Goodman, IIE president.
‘Our goal is to help educators and employers better understand the specific links between study abroad and career skills, to advance their mutual interest in developing global talent. Alumni report that the skills gained through study abroad can be powerful tools for long term career success,’ he added.
The report also shows that studying abroad has a positive impact on the development of a range of skills needed with 60% or more reporting positive skill gains in 14 of the 15 career skills surveyed, and significant gains in 11 of the 15 skills surveyed.
The top five skills, with more than 70% of respondents saying their study abroad experience contributed to a significant degree of improvement, were intercultural skills, curiosity, flexibility/adaptability, confidence, and self-awareness.
In addition, more than 50% noted significant gains in interpersonal and problem solving skills. The only skill that was not significantly developed or improved by studying abroad was technical or software skills, with respondents largely noting that these skills were mostly developed through the academic programmes on their home campus and were not a focus of their study abroad programmes.