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Why do Employers Want Intercultural Skills?


A new report from Ipsos finds that businesses need and want people with intercultual skills.

John Worne agrees, stressing the importance of knowing your foreign languages and being culturally aware as a company.

In an article on the Huffpost, Worne, Director of Strategy at the British Council writes he has learned great lessons from living all across the globe.

One of them is that the differences between people are greater than their similarities. Worne believes this to be true for all aspects of society; whether it’s at home, abroad or in NGOs.

According to new research by the British Council, Ipsos and management consultants Booz Allen Hamilton, employers from all countries value workers that can work across cultures - i.e. have intercultural skills.

Furthermore, companies also believed not having the right people puts them in danger of losing their clients; Worne is not surprised by this.

Many companies have not yet grasped the importance of employees with intercultural skills.

English might seem like a language that will get you anywhere, but in reality, there are many places where people do not speak English at all or not good enough to pick up subtle nuances or cultural references. For many businesses, this ignorance has led to a decrease of productivity, clients and even customers. (Click here to see some examples)

Worne thinks the new study must be regarded as a “wake-up call” and says the myth that “everyone speaks English, so why bother learning foreign languages” should be dispelled.

As a matter of fact, only less than a quarter of all Chinese managers say their business uses English on a regular basis. Twenty years ago, Worne’s boss wasn’t familiar with this figure: he recalls that his boss gave “a lecture on Total Quality Management (which dates it) using acetates (which dates it even more) to a roomful of Hong Kong Chinese purchasing managers. His array of UK-specific anecdotes and increasingly desperate puns was met with blank faces until at least three of the audience actually fell asleep.”

Even though differences are manifold, there are a number of topics that can be used anywhere in the world. Sports, for example, or art, science or business. As a business, you can always fall back on one of these topics to keep the conversation going. Especially the business, “the language of money,” is practically spoken anywhere – but this must not be taken for a cold, hard fact!

The research of the British Council goes to show that speaking English simply does not cut it anymore. Moreover, intercultural skills are needed in businesses like fish need water.

The only exception to this rule is America, a country with a big enough home market to erase the need of foreign languages. But for the other countries, Worne thinks it is about time cultural biases and clichés are abandoned. The new report indicates that the British are fairly good at this: if we in addition improve our foreign language standards as well, there’s no stopping us from taking over the business world!

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Photo by Saulo Mohana on Unsplash

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