DUBAI // Employers say intercultural skills are the quality they look for first when hiring graduates, a new study has found.
The region-wide research, carried out by the British Council, found that more than half of UAE companies say their staff regularly communicate with clients and suppliers outside the UAE.
"It's unsurprising, therefore, that good communication skills are high on the priority list for employers here," said Gordon Slaven, UAE country director at the British Council.
That does not necessarily mean language skills, although they too are highly prized.
"UAE employers place a particularly high value on a so-called 'softer' communications skill set of intercultural skills.
"Over half [57 per cent] of UAE employers are actively seeking intercultural skills through their recruitment process and almost 60 per cent say they are likely to promote employees with these skills more quickly."
Asked to specify what they meant by intercultural skills, the 44 companies involved in the study talked about the ability to understand different cultural contexts, to be flexible and adaptable, comfortable with complex situations, respectful of others, open to new ways of thinking and able to work well in diverse teams.
Time management and analytical thinking were also identified as important skills in an intercultural setting.
"Having the right formal qualification for a job is critical, but no longer enough. Students need to think about how they are developing and demonstrating their softer intercultural skills,'' the study said.
"This may inform the academic courses that they choose, for example by looking for courses that focus on the international context of their subject area, but these skills can equally be developed through extra curricular activities."
Seventy one per cent of employers want universities to focus more on developing communications skills, while 55 per cent want more emphasis on teaching leadership skills. Twenty five per cent want foreign languages to be compulsory.
Alveena Javed, careers and employability services manager at Middlesex University Dubai, said 70 per cent of employers hiring its students have specific requirements for both technical and intercultural skills.
"Employers are always looking for graduates with social and cultural values and ethics, understanding of different cultures," she said. Multilingual or bilingual students are preferred.
The university's careers department runs workshops and seminars on cultural awareness, global business ethics, effective communication and team work.
Ibrahim Amin, 22, is about to graduate in human resources management from the University of Wollongong Dubai. Intercultural skills were among the reasons he chose to study at a branch of a foreign university.
"Every time I go to an interview I tell them I've been exposed to different cultures here [at UOWD] and they seem to like that," he said.
"It shows I'm comfortable with people from any culture. Those intercultural skills are important to employers."