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Skilling for a Globally Competent Workforce

Rapidly changing geopolitical events have brought to light a number of our educational challenges and disparities.  


As the pace of global change accelerates, it’s essential to empower professionals by training them in the skills they need to succeed globally: strategic thinking, problem-solving, and effectively communicating and interacting with stakeholders across cultures. Understanding the world and the factors that impact business is essential.  

Businesses now see geopolitical tensions as the biggest threat to the global economy, according to the latest survey by Oxford Economics. The finding confirms that businesses’ perceptions of economic risks have shifted significantly. Geopolitical risks are a top global threat to businesses, survey finds.

Workforce training and education ranks as a high priority, but companies are finding that young employees enter the workforce with inadequate knowledge and skills.  

As a nation, we spend a lot of time and money to make sure everyone is going to school, but not  enough time is spent on evaluating what exactly is being taught in schools. We need to focus on the actual curriculum and what future workers and citizens are actually learning.  

The bottom line is that businesses and our economy are directly and indirectly impacted by the burden of education curriculums that do not adequately get young people ready for the workforce. Students grow up to be employees in every industry, and our current curriculums are uneven in preparing young people for careers, whether through college or vocational training. 

The Correlation Between Business and Education 

Education outcomes are directly dependent on the quality of the curriculum and teaching. One of the challenges in the US is that standards are set by the state, not nationally. Pew research shows that the US still ranks a mediocre 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science. The data makes it clear that American students still lag behind their global peers in reading and critical thinking.  

Since the 1970s, curriculum standards in the US have undergone a transformation, and in many cases, curriculum quality has decreased as a result of the convergence of various technological and political factors. Technology often focuses on the mechanics of conveying learning material but doesn’t address the quality of learning content. Some school boards have customized and modified learning content to align with local beliefs and perceptions, creating even more variations in curriculum and diluting the integrity of the educational material. 

Businesses are increasingly paying attention to the local curriculum quality. A recent survey of CEOs noted a key recommendation to consider national curriculums with a business focus. Businesses can’t be effective and communities can’t be revitalized if curriculums are mediocre. 

Whether businesses are staffing for various positions or expanding in new states or countries, the curriculum quality and standards determine both the quality of local employees as well as a firm’s ability to attract skilled labor to a particular location. Companies are finding that they need to offer basic-skills training just to ensure that employees have the tools and processes needed to do a wide range of jobs, utilizing critical-reasoning skills to baseline knowledge in STEM and the social sciences. 

We know from our experience with global firms, especially those with customer-facing employees, that whenever we provide learning on global business practices, culturally attentive customer service, or cross-cultural team-building, we need to incorporate basic elements of the social sciences.  

For example, due to variations in K-12 education curriculums, not all employees have had access to the same facts on history, and enabling employees to learn the “why” behind a fact is more effective in helping behaviors evolve.  

When helping companies understand the impact of culture on their business objectives, employee training requires a deeper dig into the why and how history and cultures have evolved. Having a workforce whose core foundational knowledge is inadequate and inconsistent affects how businesses communicate, innovate, and respond to opportunities and challenges, which ultimately impacts the bottom line. 

Businesses can help enhance the knowledge base of their workforce in several key ways.  

First, they must select and invest in local communities that champion curriculums that are strong in STEM and the humanities and that support fact-based knowledge, critical-thinking skills, intellectual curiosity, and reasoning skills. Businesses have choices on where to locate their offices and, once established, can get further involved through local education programs.  

Second, they must advocate for lifelong learning within the company, providing opportunities for both existing employees and new hires. When investing in employee training, companies should select curriculums that integrate and encourage critical thinking, mental flexibility, diversity of thought, and the ability to rethink assumptions as well as deepen fact-based knowledge to reinforce skills and team-building. For example, when looking at multicultural or diversity programs, companies should make sure that any discussion of communicating and managing effectively includes providing the historical context of cultures and societies—not just a list of cultural do’s and don’ts.  

If employees come into the workplace with different versions of history, science or any subject, it’s critical to create a common, factual baseline to find a productive path forward and nurture a learning mindset within the company culture.  

We all recognize the value of lifelong learning. Now, companies recognize that they have to invest even more to provide a wider variety of curated learning options that help create a baseline of information and skills so their workforce can compete effectively around the country and across borders.