Skills that international students will need and that employers will love (14 September 2016)

International students need more than just ‘knowledge’ to be successful. It’s not enough to learn facts and methods. It’s also about knowing when to apply the knowledge and methods, about having the mental dexterity to deal with the unexpected, about being able to think through a problem. These things will be crucial in the exam. In other words, it’s about skills as well as knowledge.

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It’s likely you’ll have heard about these skills before: skills like problem-solving, independent research, critical-thinking, time-management, team-working, self-directed study, self-awareness and time-management. We can call them ‘transferable skills’ because they can be transferred to different contexts outside of the context (which may or may not be part of a formal study programme) in which they are learnt. These very same skills, taken together, act like a ‘How to learn’ toolkit that enable a person to go on learning, and to learn different kinds of things in different environments.

International students need transferable skills to be successful in the workplace

One key different environment will be the workplace. The skills that employers look for when hiring, and that enable someone to adapt and thrive once they’ve landed that first job, are the same transferable skills. Statistics show that shortage of these skills is a key challenge for employers globally. 38% of employers say they have difficulty finding people with the skills they require, and 54% of companies say that skills shortages impact their ability to serve their customers. Employers are looking for well-rounded individuals, and this goes beyond the achievement of top grades. Hiring managers need to ensure that new hires are prepared for the rigour and demands of work. This is why you'll see these these skills popping up in job descriptions time and again next to demands for technical qualifications. They’re that important

Transferable skills development ensures that education not only means academic success but also employability

Knowledge can be acquired more quickly than skills. It can also be lost more easily. We can forget previously learnt knowledge as we acquire new knowledge. Skills, on the other hand, must be developed early on - the earlier the better - and fine-tuned over a long period of time. Family, friends and school all play crucial parts. And once they’re there, skills stay with us for life, enabling us to learn the new things we need, to think around problems and to work independently and collaboratively as needed.

A good international education should enable students to start developing transferable skills as early as possible. In doing so, by fostering and developing transferable skills in learners, it will ensure that education not only means academic success, but also employability.

New International GCSEs (9-1) develop transferable skills

Our goal at Pearson is to help people make progress in their lives by achieving success in their exams and by building and sustaining a career. Our new International GCSE (9-1) qualifications, and resources to support them, specifically develop transferable skills. They’re embedded into the textbooks and online learning materials, and are clearly signposted (you’ll see the specific skills labelled in the margin, next to the exercise or example). Ensuring that skills opportunities are explicitly signposted in this way, alongside subject knowledge, helps students understand what skills they’re developing. Research has shown that if someone understands what skills they’re using and developing, they learn these skills more effectively. They’ll also be able to talk about what skills they have and, crucially, give examples.

We believe that our new International GCSE (9-1) qualifications, and resources to support them, give learners the best possible opportunity to develop the skills they need to achieve academic success, and become the well-rounded and capable individuals that employers need.

Find out more about our new Pearson Edexcel International GCSEs (9-1)

By Ben Greshon
Senior Publisher, Global Schools

About Ben Greshon

Ben heads up the Oxford-based team responsible for publishing Pearson’s teaching and learning resources to support Edexcel’s International GCSE and International A level qualifications. Ben studied English Language and Literature at university and holds a post-graduate qualification in publishing. His professional background is in language teaching and the development of educational publishing products. He has extensive international publishing experience across ELT (English Language Teaching), Higher Education and Schools. Ben is passionate about education and about making a positive impact on learner outcomes by publishing the best possible resources for students and teachers.

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An academic qualification is only part of what is necessary for university study. Parents, students and teachers want to develop ‘well-rounded students’, which goes beyond achievement of A and A* results. This is to ensure that students are fully prepared for the rigour and demands of degree study and are equipped with all the skills needed for success at university. 

University is more than academic achievement

For many students studying international curricula around the world, their ambition is to progress to a world-renowned, highly-ranked university, often outside of their own country. This journey often begins when students start their International GCSEs with the intention of developing the knowledge and skills that they will need to successfully progress onto A level and higher education study.

Transferable skills, such as problem-solving, initiative (e.g. independent research), critical-thinking, self-monitoring (e.g. time management) and team-working skills will help students cope with the different demands of degree study and provide a solid skills base that enables them to adapt and thrive in different environments across educational stages; and ultimately into employment.

International students need ‘more’ to be successful at university

Despite international students being high-achievers and getting great results, we know that getting the right grade profile to enter a university course is not enough to ensure that they will be successful when they start. There are many examples of Higher Education institutions reporting the difficulties that all students experience in making the transition from A level study to the more independent study demands required for a degree. This problem can be exacerbated for international students when also dealing with the added pressures of different cultural styles, potential language barriers and the realities of studying far away from home and their support network.

Many of the academic qualifications that are required to enter onto degree courses do provide inherent opportunities for wider transferable skills development. However, we know that students are often not drawing on these or able to demonstrate them. This shows that without early support to identify where they are using cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills and how these are transferable, they are not able to identify and therefore use these skills to their advantage at the next level of study.

Starting early gives students the best support to develop the transferable skills they need to be successful at university

A good international education should enable students to start developing transferable skills as early as possible. Developing these transferable skills where they naturally occur as part of the International GCSE curriculum can help build learner confidence and embed the importance of this well-rounded development. This builds the foundations to ensure students are ready for A level and higher education.

It is important to support teachers with effective classroom delivery strategies to make students aware of their acquisition of transferable skills as part of the subjects they are studying. Ensuring cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills opportunities are explicitly drawn out through teaching and learning alongside subject knowledge helps show students what skills and attributes they are developing. It is important that learners are supported in understanding how these can apply to different contexts outside the subject they were acquired in, for them to become ‘transferable’ skills.

An International GCSE curriculum can help equip teachers to utilise different approaches through the training and support offer that surrounds them, including print and digital resources that signpost transferable skills development. It can also build a broad framework for learners to experience a different learning approach, one that can build opportunities for more independent learning in a supported and structured way through GCSE and into A level study.

Our approach to enhancing transferable skills in our International GCSEs ensures that it is not only the academic and cognitive skills that are developed, but those broader elements that universities highlight as being essential for success. Skills such as self-directed study, independent research, self-awareness of own strengths and weaknesses and time-management are skills that students cannot learn from a textbook but have to be developed through the teaching and learning experience that can be provided through an international curriculum.

Find out more about our new Pearson Edexcel International GCSEs (9-1)

By Lucy Hill
Senior Academic Portfolio Manager, International Qualifications