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Basic Training For the Global Marketplace

The next generation needs to develop its international knowledge.

As a nation, we are losing our edge in science and technology. The Business Roundtable, National Academy of Sciences and others have sounded the alarm in recent reports, issuing warnings and calling for action. The most frequently invoked remedy is a massive, much-needed infusion of resources for science and math education in our schools. But this is only part of the “basic training” our young people need to compete successfully in a global marketplace. They also need international knowledge, language abilities and intercultural communications skills that young graduates around the world receive as part of their higher education, and that U.S. employers cannot afford to teach them on the job.

Companies are no longer sending rising managers abroad, preferring to hire U.S.-trained international students or local hires with international experience. American students too often graduate without the basic skills they need to be globally competent professionals, and companies fail to seek out or reward those who are better equipped.

The Institute of International Education (IIE), on whose board we serve, released its latest report, which shows that study abroad more than doubled in the past decade, to a record high of 191,321 students receiving credit this past year.

The good news is that we already have in place an effective mechanism to build language and cultural knowledge: study abroad at the undergraduate level. Hundreds of U.S. campuses are sending students abroad each year, through their own programs and many others. But thousands are not, and the vast majority of American students don’t even own a passport.

                                                 

The bad news is that this number is barely 1 percent of the 19 million students enrolled in U.S. higher education. The worse news is that human resources professionals and line managers do not appear to value international experience when makinghiring decisions. Studies by IIE and other national exchange organizations have shown that, while CEOs express their conviction that international competence is important, that view is not shared by campus recruiters and is not being reflected in hiring and promotion decisions that would incentivize graduating students and young professionals.

The lesson is clear. Business leaders need to support international study with financial means. Several flagship programs of the U.S. government, such as the Fulbright, Gilman and National Security Education Programs, and private initiatives such as the Freeman Awards for Study in Asia,have begun to attract greater numbers of U.S. students. Interest in these programs is strong, with applications increasing sharply since 2001.

Farsighted companies and foundations like Goldman Sachs and General Electric have invested in international programs to prepare students for future leadership in a global arena. Corporate leaders need to step up to the plate and support such programs, and also reward students who participate byputting a priority on new hires with global experience.

We challenge business leaders to speak out in support of study abroad and to require a basic level of international competence in their professional and managerial workforce.

Talk to your employees. Talk to your alma mater. Talk to your children. The message is clear. The next generation must leave the country€¦ and come back with their minds open to the world.


Henry Kaufman is chairman emeritus of the Institute of International Education and Thomas S. Johnson is chairman.

About henry kaufman and thomas s. johnson