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Spending time overseas leads to workplace innovation, says study

Those who have participated in an international experience are more likely to progress into a job role involving innovation than those who haven’t, according to a recent British Council report.

Photo: A World of Experience report

73% of those with an international experience reported that they have strong analytical and critical thinking skills

Almost half of those (46%) surveyed for the report who have had an international experience, including exchange programmes, volunteering, studying, working or travelling, were involved in innovation, specifically research and development, in the workplace, compared with a quarter who haven’t, the report found.

“Increasing the availability of international opportunities may be one way to help promote future innovation in the UK”

Around a third of those with international experience were involved in the implementation of new or improved designs or sales methods, compared with a fifth of those without.

Furthermore, 44% of those with international experience were involved in creating new or improved goods and services, while 28% of those without were involved.

Entitled A World of Experience, the report surveyed 1,148 UK residents, of whom 712 had an international experience and 436 did not.

It also identifies that 73% of those with an international experience reported that they have strong analytical and critical thinking skills, associated with innovation, 13% higher than those without an international experience.

Problem-solving was another skill looked at, with 83% of those who have had an international experience reporting strong skills in this area, 11% higher than those without this involvement.

Mona Lotten, external relations manager at the British Council and one of the authors of the report, told The PIE News that the connections between international experience and innovation have not necessarily been apparent in the past.

“We hope this new insight will lead employers to test for these skills and experiences as part of their recruitment strategies and reward these skills and experiences to a greater extent, thus stimulating demand for international opportunities as well as providing job opportunities,” she said.

The report recommends that the benefits of international experiences should be further recognised and promoted.

It also emphasises that the connections between overseas experience and innovation should be reinforced.

The findings suggest that “increasing the availability of international opportunities may be one way to help promote future innovation in the UK”, it says.

“It is often difficult to persuade employers … to articulate the benefits of student involvement in study or work in another country”

In support of this, Lotten pointed out that innovation exports are key to the UK’s long-term prosperity.

“While the UK economy has strengthened since the 2007 recession, growth has been driven by domestic spending rather than exports,” she said.

“Addressing this imbalance is a key priority for the UK as is increasing productivity – which again requires innovation, creativity and development.”

Besides looking at the correlation between international experience and innovation, the report also highlighted other benefits that time spent abroad can carry.

Those with an international experience were also more likely to be in job role which involves an international focus, it found.

For example, 60% of those with experience abroad said they liaise with international colleagues, suppliers and customers. However, less than 30% of those without this experience do the same.

Respondents who had spent time abroad were also more likely to say they felt confident in their foreign language ability – 26%, compared with less than 10% of those who had not.

However, Lotten acknowledged that while student awareness of the benefits of international experiences is growing, “it is often difficult to persuade employers – even those who may be convinced of the benefits – to articulate the benefits of student involvement in study or work in another country”.

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