Is Having a Global Mindset as Important as Technical Skills in Today's Economy?

July 28, 2011

By Janice Mulholland

Last week, I attended The New Work Era Summit hosted by The Atlantic. Although international education was not the main focus of the event, there was a short conversation about the need for employees to have a global mindset and cultural skills in addition to the more technical skills needed in today's workforce.

During the summit, panelist Frits van Paasschen, CEO and president of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., said that one of the biggest disadvantages of being a U.S. company is the lack of Americans who understand how to communicate in other languages or function in other cultures. Earlier this summer, the company relocated their headquarters to China for a few weeks – in no small part, he said, to improve the company's global mindset.

Jeff Joerres, chairman, CEO, and president of Manpower Inc., another panelist at the summit, said that companies, “are all stewards of global capital," and that this lack of globally-minded employees is a social-skill issue that needs to be addressed. Earlier this month, another executive from Manpower Inc. was quoted in a New York Times article as saying that although their clients can find workers with technical skills, those candidates "don’t have a global mindset or can’t work with people in different cultures.”

There is a national conversation taking place right now about the need to better prepare Americans for today’s global workforce, and how we can educate our way to a better economy, as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put it at the summit last week. There is much-needed attention on promoting college access, increasing college completion rates, improving job training, and inspiring innovation. These are all very important things, but I would argue that there’s something missing in the conversation. For as often as I hear the word “global” as a descriptor for the economy or workforce (which is almost always today), I rarely hear that word carry over to conversations about educating students in preparation for that economy or workforce. At most, global education issues get a shout-out, such as the quotes from the business executives highlighted above that were part of a five-minute conversation within the five-hour event. If we are going to be successful in educating our way to a better economy, as Secretary Duncan and others are striving for, we also need to focus on how to provide students with greater access to an education that specifically nurtures critical global skills such as facility in a foreign language, an understanding of other countries and cultures, and the ability to function effectively in differing cultural contexts.

Add your view: Is your office part of a conversation on your campus about the need to better prepare students for success in today’s global workforce? Are you seeing a trend of increased interest among employers coming to your campus in hiring globally-minded graduates, as Fritz van Paasschen and Jeff Joerres are suggesting? If so, are you also seeing that translate to higher student interest in study abroad opportunities?