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Agenda: We need to keep Scotland at the forefront of global marketplace

Globalisation matters to all nations but, particularly, to smaller nations such as Scotland.

The increasing interdependency of nations through the exchange of products, world views, ideas, knowledge and aspects of culture means that Scotland needs to ensure it remains relevant and competitive on an international stage.

Nations have to adjust rapidly in this globalised environment, as set out, for example by the Scottish Government's ambition for doubling exports by 2017.

To attain this, Scottish businesses need a workforce, in particular young new entrants to the labour market, with the skills to operate internationally. These transferrable skills include communication and language ability, team work and leadership, but also intercultural awareness. By being involved in the supply of and demand for native speakers to teach foreign languages in Scottish schools, through the Language Assistants programme, the British Council has become increasingly concerned about the international outlook and aspirations of young people in Scotland.

We commissioned a survey by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) to establish the views of business employers, graduates and institutes of higher and further education in Scotland, to find out what value they place on global or transferrable skills and what they see as the needs, opportunities and barriers regarding the creation of a globally aware labour force.

The main findings of the survey, Keeping Pace in the Global Skills Race?, are illuminating. First, the vast majority of businesses think Scotland is being left behind by EU and emerging economies. Secondly, while a high proportion of young people are seeking careers with an international dimension, confidence and ambition decline with distance to and unfamiliarity with the location. Europe, North America and Australasia are the most popular destinations in that order. Thirdly, financial considerations and language skills are cited as the top barriers to working and studying abroad. In April, The Herald reported some interesting numbers that have a bearing.

Education correspondent, Andrew Denholm wrote: "There were 126,000 home students at Scottish universities in 2011/2012, but only 1,810 left to study overseas. In contrast, there were more than 40,000 overseas students at Scottish universities in the same year." These figures illustrate how big a job we have to turn the tide.

This is not to say Scotland is not already achieving great things on the international stage. We have companies competing at the highest level across the globe. But the report shows there is the potential for so much more and there is every reason to believe greater attainment of global skills by our young people could take Scotland to the next level.

What is encouraging in the report is the willingness of businesses to work with education providers and cultural organisations to help young people acquire the skills needed.

As a cultural relations organisation, one of our biggest priorities is helping young people and businesses expand their horizons and explore new cultures and markets that often seem too unfamiliar. Building long-term relationships and trust between the people of Scotland and countries abroad will unquestionably help build prosperity.

While more work has to be done on global skills, we need to do a better job of communicating the opportunities that already exist for young people to gain international experiences. Whether through formal study programmes such as Erasmus or by working or volunteering overseas, we have a system in place that is underutilised in comparison to other EU countries.

We need to take from this report the importance that young people attach to acquiring transferable skills, including inter-cultural understanding. Their interest in taking part in programmes that provide opportunities to learn these skills is clear, But they need support to reduce the barriers to mobility to make the world more accessible.

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