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Cultural Competencies – Getting Ready to Join a Global Workforce


I recently attended a Twitter chat event (#Tchat) with the theme "Going Global: Workers Without Borders." While the participants were mainly career advisors and human resources professionals, there was a clear message for today's college students – you've got to get ready to compete and succeed in a global economy. We all do, really, as the nature of work changes, so do the skills and knowledge required. How can online students prepare to be global citizens and what does globalization mean for jobs? 

Skills, Knowledge, and Awareness

Just as you are learning through working with diverse groups of students in your courses you are likely to find similar levels of diversity in the workplace. This is especially true as companies "go global," recruiting and hiring team members from all over the world. These settings include working with people from many different cultures and added elements of diversity to the workplace which you may not have experienced before.

The Career Development Center at SUNY-Binghamton created this list [PDF] of the Skills/Qualities of Globally Competent Graduates:

Initiative | Enthusiasm | Inquisitiveness | Interest in Continuous Learning | Courage | Self-reliance | Self-confidence | Cultural Awareness/Sensitivity | Self-knowledge | Independence | Positive Outlook Toward Adversity | Appreciation of Diversity | Perseverance | Creativity | Flexibility | Comfort with Uncertainty | Open-mindedness | Language/Communication Skills | Assertiveness | Sense of Humor

This is substantial list – where do you stand? There are several assessments designed to help you identify your cultural competencies and awareness levels. Take the opportunity to explore several of the sites listed below to find out more about your own strengths and weaknesses in these areas.

  • Diversity Awareness Quizzes: EdChange.org provides a host of educational materials covering a range of cultural issues. Take the Equity and Diversity Awareness Quiz to begin your exploration of these resources.
  • Cultural Intelligence Self-Assessment Tool: What is your CQ? This brief questionnaire provides some food-for-thought about specific behaviors related to attitude toward and understanding of different cultures. 
  • Cross-Cultural Adaptability Inventory (CCAI): The CCAI is a fee-based survey instrument that evaluates four areas of cultural communication: emotional resilience, flexibility/openness, perceptual acuity, and personal autonomy. An Action Planning Guide is also available and includes suggestions and activities for building your skills. 
  • Cultural Competence Health Practitioner Assessment (CCHPA): While the CCHPA was designed for health professionals who deliver services across cultural groups, you'll find that several of the sub-scales are interesting and relevant. At the end of the assessment, you are provided with a list of resources to help you learn more, based on your responses. 
  • The National Center for Cultural Competence (NCCC) at Georgetown University reminds us that cultural competence does not happen overnight. It is a process through which our awareness increases and our knowledge and skills are enhanced. And this process takes time.

Making the Most of Opportunities

Getting ready to join a global workforce means finding ways that you can add to your cultural skill set and experience multicultural environments. As an online student, there are a number of things you can do to get ready. Consider the items listed below and begin to develop your own plan for moving forward.

  • Practical experience: Look for internships and other work opportunities that are both related to your field of study and with companies and organizations that have an international presence or outreach.
  • Travel: The opportunity to experience unfamiliar places first hand, even within the U.S., can be a great chance to meet new people and learn about different communities' cultures and customs. If you have traveled internationally, take stock of that experience – document the places you've been and the experiences you've had. Check with your advisors to find out if Study Abroad programs are available at your school.
  • Get involved: Consider volunteering with organizations that serve diverse communities in your local area. Look for opportunities to join committees and student groups that focus on cross-cultural and diversity issues in your program or school.
  • Take an elective: Add an elective course to your plan of study, or look for a course that fits your degree requirements that focuses on a culture different from your own, keeping in mind that culture and diversity extends beyond geographic location and language. These courses may already be part of your core curriculum.
  • Connect: Reach out to alumni from your program who may be working internationally or for global companies. Find out more about their experiences and advice for getting prepared. Check with your career center to find out about alumni matching or mentoring programs.

Career expert and blogger Donna Svei recommends a few things to consider during the job search: include in your resume evidence that you have worked with diverse groups and be able to describe your adaptability to new environments and cultures.

The Changing World of Work

Technology is changing the way we work, by allowing for rapid exchange of information and new ways in which to communicate with each other. As one participant in the #Tchat observed, "globalization has turned work into a 24 [hour] cycle – [we] can chase the sun from one country to the next" all the while, working with a diverse virtual team and collaborating on projects with a variety of communication tools.

Recruitment of new employees is also changing. From the student's perspective, Andera Bertone from Monster.com says the advent of complex job search websites is making a "baffling amount of information" available. And from a human resource manager's perspective, the growth of professional networking sites makes an equally baffling amount of information available about potential candidates. It's a lot to figure out and sort through and may be changing the way positions are filled, making vacancy announcements obsolete.

A unique "culture" can emerge almost anywhere. Just think about your current (or previous) workplace. There is a culture there that is different from other companies, created by the leadership in the organization, the organization's mission, and those who work there. Organizations are also faced with the task of fostering a positive company or "corporate culture" of members who may represent many cultures as well.

As you prepare to enter a global workforce, having a wide range of cultural competencies will help you stand out as a desirable candidate. Remember that understanding how people and organizations are different is important, but you also need to practice the skills and behaviors necessary to be successful in a multicultural work environment. Seek out opportunities to engage in diversity issues, enhance your knowledge and skills, and meet the challenges ahead.

August 19th, 2011 written by Staff Writers

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