Intercultural Skills Report

The first stage and output of the project investigated the intercultural competencies perceived as required now, and in the future, by employers and graduates within Europe.

This sought to capture student perceptions of the cross-cultural competencies and skills they possess and employer perceptions on the type of cross-cultural competencies and skills needed to succeed in the workplace. To explore and assess this, data was collected using interviews and questionnaires in four countries, the UK, Belgium, Sweden, and Turkey.

In total, fifty interviews were conducted with employers and fifty interviews with students. The fifty interviews with the employers and with the students were built from a geographic sample of ten interviews in Belgium, Sweden, and Turkey and twenty interviews from the UK, ten of which were in the greater London area and ten in the more rural West Midlands area. Data was also collected and analysed from 403 questionnaires completed by employers and 585 questionnaires completed by students.

The industry and graduates’ cross-cultural competencies and skills report entitled ‘The Intercultural Skills Graduates and Businesses in Europe Need Today’ can be downloaded below. A summary of the key findings within the report can also be found below.

Download Report

Report Summary

Cultural empathy, cognitive flexibility, social initiative, emotional stability, and ability to communicate were identified as important competencies required by employers. Whilst students, in addition to these competencies, highlighted that they perceived open-mindedness and willingness to tolerate ambiguity as significant cultural skills needed during the job search process after graduation. The results also showed that employers believed that effective communication and language skills, and digital skills, are soft skills that will be required in the future for effective cross-cultural communication. This was partially echoed by students who perceived that technology skills and digital skills will play a major role in the future.

Cultural challenges were an issue that was discussed by both employers and students. Employers considered communication, language and trust as challenges that need to be handled with a deep understanding to improve the competitiveness of European companies.  Students also pointed out the need for developing new multicultural, social and professional networks as one of the most important challenges.

The quantitative results highlighted the importance attributed to both experience with, and exposure to, people from different cultural backgrounds. Both students and employers scored much higher on important intercultural competencies such as cultural empathy, cognitive flexibility, open-mindedness, and tolerance for ambiguity, if they had previously had frequent interactions with people from other cultures. The results also demonstrated potential differences based on the urbanisation and the multicultural nature of the area. 

The research and report highlight the importance of both experience with foreign cultures and foreign language competence for the development of intercultural competencies and skills, both for businesses and universities. It is proposed that opportunities for both graduates and employees to experience different cultures should be increased through initiatives such as support for foreign language training, exchange programmes and internships abroad, building multicultural teams for study and at work, and by supporting social events that expose students and employees to different cultures and people from different cultural backgrounds.