'Let’s teach international trade at school and make exporting part of UK national psyche'  

Institute of Export director general, Lesley Batchelor, speaks to Chamber International

The UK should consider incorporating exporting to the school curriculum, as part of either geography or foreign language lessons, to better prepare pupils for a business life which embraces international trade, says the director general of the Institute of Export, Lesley Batchelor.

University business courses already regularly use the Institute of Export to add a practical element to the course content as building competence and skills among young people in all aspects of global trade would help boost Britain ‘s export performance.

Lesley Batchelor, speaking to Chamber International during UKTI Export Week, said that teaching young people, both school pupils and university students more about the practical aspects of exporting would enable them to spot export opportunities when they enter working life which may be being missed by the current generation.

She said: “Building competence in international trade is at the heart of the Institute of Export’s remit and our view that it must be started at an earlier age.  We need to embed exporting into young people’s psyche so that, wherever they eventually work, they automatically think of the new potential markets and opportunities for their product or service.“

Teaching international trade to young people would also help resolve some of the confusion about exporting which makes some businesses over-cautious about tackling overseas markets.

Lesley Batchelor added: “I’m not sure whether businesses in general still really understand the implications of trading internationally. On one hand, the government is saying that it’s easy and that businesses should just have a stab at it while organisations, such as The Institute of Export, are trying to help companies research and develop strategies to minimise the pitfalls.” 

Lesley Batchelor adds that the trend towards cutting costs has led to a lack of succession planning, which, in turn, has led to under performance internationally and a shortage of skilled people to help entrepreneurs target new overseas markets.

She says: “There is still an island mentality which is unhealthy as we need to look at new markets as a natural progression from domestic trade and not as some alien concept,” she said.

“The UK has not entirely bought into EU Single Market which is a shame as it is hugely beneficial to our trade and potential, especially as the EU is negotiating with the US on creating a Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership, which will establish a trading block representing almost half the global GDP, and a third of all world trade flows.

“It’s a very powerful concept and, if it succeeds, we need to be able to realise its full potential for the UK.”

Many export professionals have said that they are seeing more management time in new businesses spent on resolving issues which have arisen due to lack of training and this is hampering their progress and making the failure of fledging companies more likely. How can The Institute of Export help exporters in this predicament?

“The Institute has a full programme of activity to support training and education. Mike Strawson is among the best trainers that the Institute has as a member and so Chamber International has a great advantage.

“Any other international trade training can be sourced from the Institute of Export. Education programmes are delivered on line and we ensure that the IOE Campus is up to date and useful.

“We use a blended learning method which supports on line course materials with webinars, conference calls and tutor support. If desired, we also try to set up a system of study buddies that helps students support each other.

“It’s proving very successful and we have doubled our student numbers in the last year. We provide qualifications from a Level 1 Young International Trader for schools and clubs through to a BSCin International Trade. It is very useful help for anyone hoping to have a career in international trade.”

One difficulty identified by some trade professionals in the current UK export drive is that businesses do not appear to be given enough support to protect their research and development and the resulting products or services. Businesses also find it very hard and expensive to protect intellectual property (IP) after spending a lot of time and investment on innovation.

 Lesley Batchelor adds: “There is no easy answer to protecting IP as it costs money wherever the protection is set up and it has to be policed too. The best way maybe for businesses to use unregistered trade marking and copyright to its fullest and accept that these rights cannot be enforced everywhere. One of the good things about working within the EU and USA is that they have a respect for IP and the rights that it attracts.”

What advice would she give to first-time exporters? “Make sure you know three key facts about your new market: how they do business, how you’ll get paid and cover all the angles on costs so you have the right price - it's only worth exporting if you're doing it at a profit!"