In my line of work I talk a lot about cultural competency and intercultural skills as a prerequisite to a successful career in international business. In this context regular readers of this blog may have picked up on one of my pet peeves: the fact that school systems rarely provide our students with enough opportunities to develop cross-cultural skills. Some of you might remember me writing about this four years ago.
During the last two decades businesses throughout the United States have been increasingly adapting to the reality of a global economy. Being prepared for this changing market environment means not only being able to speak other languages, but also knowing how to work comfortably in other cultures. There’s one problem though: Not all U.S. school systems kept up with the changing demands, as you’ll see on the research-based website called Mapping The Nation. Today, to find out how much every county in America is connected to the rest of the world is just a few clicks away.
You’ll notice that the statistic realities aren’t very favorable to the development of this country’s future leaders.
On the Mapping The Nation website you can filter several data points and drill down to your state or region. Since I live in Tennessee, the infographic below is especially alarming to me. Too few students learn a foreign language and the vast majority of them never get a chance to participate in a study abroad program.
As a former exchange student I can attest to the fact that very few experiences are more efficient in helping teenagers acquire intercultural skills than being sent abroad to be immersed in another culture, language, and educational environment. We are failing our children by not providing these critical learning opportunities. We are also letting down our business community by not producing enough graduates with the necessary skills to compete in a global setting.
Neglecting the development and fostering of intercultural competency is hurting businesses in the U.S. (and in many other countries). It actually adds to the much talked-about skills gap in America. A recent report by Accenture highlights the issue. Their skills and employment trends survey ask the straight-forward question: “Do you have the skills to compete?”
Six out of ten of the skills companies identified as most needed in their employees are so-called “soft skills” like communication, people management or creative thinking. On top of the list: problem solving.
While I won’t claim that international education, language learning and study abroad programs are the only way to develop these skills, I strongly believe that without the proper educational opportunities graduates will be at a significant competitive disadvantage.
Christian is a cultural trainer, coach, and consultant with extensive experience in working with multinational companies and especially in developing global leaders. He is the President and CEO of The Culture Mastery, LLC, where he leads a team of dedicated training, destination services, and expat support specialists. Christian works with global organizations (or those who are going global) to help their employees overcome cultural differences. Typically he only uses the word “normal” in quotation marks and he is an advocate for helping people understand the why of behaviors – not just the dos & don’ts. Most just call him “The Culture Guy”. Find out more about Christian here and follow him on Twitter. You can also see him, listen to him, and experience his work – just invite him!