A booklet dropped through our letterbox recently from HSBC. Inside were quotes and articles, statistics and pie charts concerning international trade, with a particular emphasis on mid-sized companies.
Two quotes in particular caught my eye:
“A lack of language skills amongst our graduate intake restricts the mobility of UK staff. There are no UK board members in our overseas businesses.”
Mark Standish – Corporate Finance Partner at Mazars
“We need a UK education system that produces more business-ready graduates – especially with engineering skills, language abilities, international commercial acumen and an affinity with different cultures”.
Tim Maule, Deputy CEO of Mamas & Papas
Exporting companies are clearly faced with a problem recruiting suitable staff with the right attitude and skills for dealing with overseas countries.
That there is not one UK board member in an overseas office of Mazars seems hard to believe, particularly when you look at the range of countries represented by staff in their UK offices.
That a company the size of Mamas & Papas finds it difficult to recruit staff with the right level of international awareness is worrying. Allied to the lack of engineering skills they have reported, no wonder they are looking to overseas graduates to fill their roles.
One survey confirms that people skills are cited as being the most difficult to find in new recruits. In my personal opinion, having “people skills” goes hand in hand with an awareness of other cultures, languages and having an international viewpoint.
Elsewhere, 31% of those questioned thought that “Cultural awareness and international experience” was the hardest skillset to source for their business.
If we are going to make export the driver of growth, we need to make our young people more sensitive to the importance of international awareness. It seems that an ability to speak other languages remains a key factor, but an overall sensitivity to international differences and an ability to deal affectively with other cultures is even more important.
In the work that we do here at MTT, we deal with many varied cultures on a daily basis. Far from being a problem, this has been a fascinating insight into how different people think and work.
Thinking back to the recent snow, our Scandinavian colleagues have scratched their heads over our inability to deal effectively with the weather while sympathy has come from our contacts in warmer climes.
On a simple level, the allowances we need to make for different time zones and national holidays means we have to be flexible to ensure projects run effectively over several locations.
The work we do in schools has been instrumental in raising awareness of the importance of languages and other cultures – as Business Language Champions we hope to have inspired many students to keep up their language skills so that employers can make use of them in future years.
Let’s hope that our traditional insular way of thinking is broken down before too long and we really begin to develop a better understanding of other countries and their languages – that way our exports can grow, our economy can begin to recover and our young people can at last begin to take a more active role in international companies.