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A Simple Guide to Cultural Competency Training


Employers today require Cultural Competence in their organizations more than ever.

In the age of globalization, diversity, inclusion and engagement, it’s critical to have employees capable of working with people from different cultures.

Whether you’re giving vaccinations to a domestic audience that’s culturally diverse or travelling around the world to seal business deals, understanding how different cultures operate and how to navigate these differences is essential for success.

In fact, Cultural Competence is required in most workplaces including in our hospitals and social care systems, schools and colleges, police and armed forces, just to name just a few.

It’s this increased demand for Cultural Competency training that is driving the growth in the sector, which is predicted to become worth $1.46 billion by 2025.

If you’re new to Cultural Competency training, then this simple guide will answer many of your questions.

Click below to skip to a topic or scroll on

1. What is Cultural Competency Training?
2. Why is Cultural Competency Training Important?
3. Cultural Competency Training for Educators
4. Cultural Competency Training in Healthcare
5. Cultural Competency Training in the Military
6. Cultural Competency Training in Business
7. How Do You Gain Cultural Competence?
8. Where Can I do Cultural Competency Training?
9. Free Cultural Competency Training Courses

What is Cultural Competency Training?

Being ‘culturally competent’ is in essence about having the knowledge, experience, awareness and skills to work with people from different cultures.

The ‘competency’ is the ability to communicate and adapt your behaviours according to who and what you are dealing with.

So, a simple definition of Cultural Competency Training could be something like: formal training and learning that aims to develop someone’s competence in communicating and working with people from different countries and cultures.

Here are some other definitions.

Within a Cultural Competency training course, you would typically find topics around self-awareness, stereotyping, bias, communication styles and how cultural preferences play out in the workplace.

For example, business professionals may focus on areas like meetings, negotiation and teamwork while a social worker may look at building trust, body language and managing conflict.

taxi driver uae drinking coffee

 In some countries such as the UAE, taxi drivers get Cultural Competency training to ensure visitors to the country have a positive experience!

Why is Cultural Competency Training Important?

The answer to this question really depends on who we are talking about. Cultural Competency training can be delivered to so many different audiences for so many different reasons; from taxi drivers to CEOs.

In short, Cultural Competency training is important because it helps people learn more about themselves, about others and how to ensure that the people you work with, or for, are treated fairly, appropriately, positively and with respect – just as you would want to be.

Let’s look at 4 examples of why such training is important for people working in different types of roles.


1. Cultural Competency Training for Educators

For teachers, trainers, lecturers and anyone else involved in education, Cultural Competency training is important because it improves the understanding of students’ needs.

By appreciating more about students’ cultures and their approaches to things like learning and education, teachers and the like can tailor their approaches much better.

Such training can also help in addressing any biases that educators may carry around students of certain nationalities/cultures, as well as develop better decision-making skills.

A very simple example of a culturally incompetent college teacher would be one that assumes all their visiting Chinese students are ‘quiet’ because they don’t ask many questions. A culturally competent teacher would be one that understands that for these Chinese students it may be more effective to invite them to ask questions rather than expect them to.

The first teacher dismisses the Chinese students and is not being an effective educator. The second teacher understands them, adapts and is a much more effective educator.

If you would like to delve deeper, then this video from the National Education Association is a good introduction to the importance of Cultural Competence in education.



2. Cultural Competency Training in Healthcare

Within the healthcare system, Cultural Competency training is essential for practitioners such as nurses, medics, doctors and other front-facing healthcare professionals.

Not only do they need to be sensitive to cultural norms, taboos and basic dos and don’ts of engagement but also to understand more subtle aspects of culture such as the influence of face/shame, delivering bad news and managing family dynamics.

Cultural Competency training within the healthcare setting is about raising awareness of patients’ needs and how best to offer services, treatments and care in a way that helps.

A simple example of a culturally incompetent nurse would be one that doesn’t think about the fact that some religious communities do not approve of contact between the sexes. This nurse would go ahead and touch someone inappropriately causing a reaction that leads to a bad patient experience and possible mistrust with the nurse.

The culturally competent nurse understands this and will first ask a patient’s permission to touch them and if they are not comfortable with it, then to ask for help from a colleague of the opposite sex.

The first nurse is looking at things through their own cultural lens and is not being an effective practitioner. The second nurse is not only aware of the patient’s needs but already has some great protocols in place to deal with such scenarios – they are much more effective.

Here is a two-minute lecture on the topic of Cultural Competence in healthcare from Towson University.



3. Cultural Competency Training in the Military

Believe it or not, the military spends a lot of time, energy and money on Cultural Competency training.

Why? Because when they operate in foreign locations, they need to know how to navigate the local culture. Whether it’s for humanitarian reasons or for combat, when finding themselves in a new country the troops need to know how ‘win hearts and minds’ as well as display power.

For example, when the USA invaded Iraq to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein, it knew that it had to provide its troops with support and security in the form of Cultural Competency training. This included learning Arabic phrases, body language, dining etiquette and more serious aspects such as building trust, communication and negotiation.

An example of a culturally incompetent soldier would be one that doesn’t understand that in some cultures, such as Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, people laugh out of nervousness or confusion. They could misread someone’s nervous laughter and believe they are being mocked which could lead to some bad decisions on how to treat that person.

On the other hand, a culturally competent soldier who has been prepared well for their mission will know that in these cultures, laughter doesn’t mean they are being mocked. They understand the protocol to remain calm, display friendliness and positively manage the situation with open body language.
The first soldier is one that could make some terrible decisions; they are not going to be as effective in a military situation as the second, more culturally competent soldier.

Here is a video in which the U.S military explain how important Cultural Competence is to communication skills for the military.



4. Cultural Competency Training in Business

Within the world of business and commerce, Cultural Competency training has become increasingly important over the past couple of decades as organizations became more global in their make-up and reach.

With teams spread across time zones, operations in different countries and clients being served across the world, businesses today need culturally agile employees.

It’s important to understand cultural differences around areas such as teamwork and leadership, sales and marketing, communication and conflict as well as specific skills such as persuasion, negotiation and management.

An example of someone culturally incompetent in business would be the manager from the USA who moved to Singapore and made their staff cry during the first team meeting. Their very direct, fact-focused and hard-hitting style caused huge problems. The culturally competent manager would have understood that in Singapore, things work slightly differently and that you have to approach things carefully and diplomatically, not head-on.

The first manager makes an awful first impression and creates a whole load of trust issues for the team in Singapore. This is far from effective management. The second understands what works locally and adapts, managing it effectively.

In this video, author and speaker Erin Meyer gives more insight into the need for Cultural Competence in business.



How Do You Gain Cultural Competence?

Unfortunately, Cultural Competence isn’t something you can just pick up or learn overnight.

It takes time, it takes experience and it takes practice. It’s something you constantly improve and develop through life.

There are however plenty of things you can do to gain Cultural Competence, or at least improve/develop it.

Here are some ideas for you:

1. Read books – there are plenty of books covering all aspects of Cultural Competence. Whether you want to learn about communication, management, healthcare, or you need some specific information on South Korea, India or the UAE there is plenty of material to be found. Here is a good list of books on Cultural Competence to give you some ideas.

2. Watch TV – documentaries, Netflix series, TV shows, etc from different countries are a great way of ‘seeing’ a culture in action. It helps you see how people interact, what they wear, behave and much more. If you prefer to watch and learn then there’s also plenty on YouTube covering Cultural Competence. Here is some excellent stuff from SIETAR Europa.

3. Start a group – whether it’s in or out of work, you can start a group to encourage people from all different backgrounds to come together, share knowledge and increase everyone’s Cultural Competence. These can be particularly useful in larger organizations as a way to encourage collaboration. Here are some ideas on how to craft your own working group.

4. Take a course – professional courses on Cultural Competence are an obvious starting place however remember that they are part of the solution, not the solution itself. Training courses should be taken as part of other measures within the workplace. Here is some information below on how to find Cultural Competency training.

Where Can I Find Cultural Competency Training?

If you’re looking for Cultural Competency training then there are a few different routes you can take.

Before you get started though it’s important to have a clear understanding of what you want in mind.

Think about your aims and objectives, your target audience, the format of the training and of course the budget.

Here are some options for you if you want to find Cultural Competency training:

1. Cultural Competency Training Companies – training companies that specialize in Cultural Competence are helpful because they bring a lot of experience to the table. Their job is to translate your needs into a course or training initiative and to give feedback and ideas on content. Training companies can create a bespoke, tailored training course or draw upon off-the-shelf courses. It’s best to approach a few companies and compare their offerings and pricing.

2. Cultural Competency Trainers – as well as training companies, you can also find independent trainers that specialize in Cultural Competence. Like training companies, they can work with stakeholders to create training or learning solutions that address the organization’s specific needs. As with companies, it’s advisable to approach a few different trainers and to assess their expertise and experience early on.

3. Cultural Competency Training Courses – depending on where in the world you live, it may also be possible to attend Cultural Competency training courses in your locale. These might be ‘open courses’ run by commercial outfits or community courses run by a charity, university or similar. Some professional bodies, such as those involved in nursing or community services may also run regular courses for people to attend.

audience at cultural competency training course

Formal training, whether face-to-face or virtual, is an effective means of having a team or group of people address specific issues around Cultural Competency that impact their workplace. It allows them to share their experiences and find common ground.

Free Cultural Competency Training Courses

If you are trying to find free Cultural Competency training, then here is a list of free courses available.

Please note, although they may be free, in many cases you will need to belong to the relevant professional body. If you have a free course you would like to add to the list, then please email us with the details.


1. Free Cultural Awareness Course

This is the free version of an eLearning course for business professionals and people working in multicultural or international teams. It looks at concepts such as the Culture Lens, bias, cultural values and specifically at topics around time, teamwork and communication.


2. Cultural Competence in the Workplace

This free online course has been produced in Northern Ontario, Canada and is aimed at both employers and employees. In English and French, you can also request a certificate of completion.


3. Intercultural Competence in Education

Developed by UIcelandX, this free online course has a Nordic emphasis in terms of the context in which it was created. Aimed at teachers and students, it seeks to create a more empathetic and aware environment within the school system.


4. Cultural Competency for Law Enforcement (USA)

Developed by the Law Enforcement Innovation Center, and only available for those working in law enforcement in the USA, this course focuses on cultural diversity, de-escalation, critical decision-making, ethics and bias mitigation in policing.


5. Cultural Competence (Healthcare)

This course is specifically for National Health Service workers in the UK. The purpose of the course is to support clinicians in gaining knowledge and understanding of the issues around culture and health and how this might influence health care outcomes.


6. Improving Cultural Competency for Behavioral Health Professionals (USA)

By the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, the goal of this e-learning program is to help behavioural health professionals increase their cultural and linguistic competency and improve the quality of care provided to clients from diverse backgrounds.


7. Cultural Competency Online Course

This course from Unite For Sight is freely and publicly available. It helps their volunteers understand their personal impact on those in clinical and international settings. It is also part of the Certificate in Cultural Competency as well as the Certificate Program in Global Health Practice.


8. Advancing Cultural Competence

The certificate is designed for health professionals but is open to anyone. The course prepares participants to recognize how the conditions of daily life, sociopolitical forces, and the culture of medicine affect health among underserved racial and ethnic groups in New York and other regions of the United States.


9. Cultural competency training course (Australia)

The course is aimed at public sector staff in Western Australia and is part of the local government’s vision of an inclusive state. Registration and access are restricted to Western Australia public sector and local government staff.

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