Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Internationally Diverse Employees are Sexy

You can stop dialling your lawyer to file a sexual harassment lawsuit.  I am not about to encourage CEOs and HR managers to start hiring job candidates because the new employee is a curvy Brazilian supermodel or a well tanned Italian stallion.  Excuse the controversial headline and start thinking “attractive” along the lines of what cultural diversity can contribute to an organization that is faced with the culturally diverse challenges that a globalized workplace delivers. 

So just to be clear, hiring hunky Alessandro because he is an enjoyable piece of eye candy is NOT alright.

It IS alright to hire Alessandro because his education, work experience and professional work ethic make him a good fit for the available position.  And it is perfectly acceptable that his cultural background gives him an added edge in the eyes of the potential employer because the marketing position that he applied for means that he will be dealing with many partner companies overseas in Europe making his heritage an added bonus when it comes to bridging the lines of communication.

Encouraging a culturally diverse workplace where there are people from a variety of international backgrounds is extremely attractive to employers for a variety of reasons ranging from the fact that it is profitable to the fact that it is marketable. 

According to Targeted Diversity Recruitment Centre, a diverse workforce enhances:

1. Connection with the customer:
The needs of diverse customers can be better understood when the workforce itself is diverse.

2. Employee motivation:
Employees maintain productivity when they know that they are treated with dignity and respect.

3. Employee innovation:
A work environment favourable to diversity is open and flexible and also favourable to employee innovation.

4. Employee recruitment and retention:
A workplace that emphasizes interest and concern for its employees as people first is able to attract a higher-quality workforce.

5. Continuous quality improvement:
An environment where employee talents are valued will help to continually improve quality.

Creating a diverse work environment is important to employers.  It demonstrates that they support the inclusion of all ethnicities and all backgrounds; encouraging equal opportunity employment.  Companies that encourage this type of a workplace also tend to be the ones that provide the most support and training for their new hires. 

So how does this relate to you as the job seeker, not the employer?  It would seem like you are out of luck.  After all, you can’t exactly change your genes.  So if you are a pasty white person (no offense to the pasty white people, I am one of them too and I feel your pain when it comes to trying to get a tan in the summer and ending up looking like a lobster instead) there isn’t much you can do about it if the recruitment office is looking to diversify the team and wants someone with a unique ethnic background.

But let’s think about it for a moment.  Are they really hiring based upon skin colour?  Hopefully Probably not.  They are more likely looking for the diverse cultural viewpoint that they assume is coming with that skin colour. They might indeed be looking for someone to join the business development team that deals mainly with East Asia.  They assume that they should hire someone from that regional background with the expectation that this person will be familiar with the cultural expectations and nuances of doing business in Japan, China, Taiwan and maybe even Mongolia. 

They are hiring someone with cultural experience; they are hiring someone who knows how to effectively communicate and deal with these ethnic differences.  Why can’t that be you?

The workplace of the 21st century is looking for diverse employees so you need to make yourself more diverse.  So what if you are one of the aforementioned pasty white people who grew up in a small town in Northern Ontario where the closest thing you had to Chinatown was sushi you can pick up at the pre-made food section of your local Loblaws Superstore.  I know I did.  But that doesn’t mean much on the grand scale of things.  I still know that many Asian countries are high context cultures, preferring to leave things unsaid and let cultural expectations fill in the blanks.  I know that word choice is extremely important since very few words can have such a complex message where as in low context culture such as America, everything needs to be explicit and fully explained.  I know that harmony, order and self-development are important underlying values and therefore confrontations and other forms of disagreements are often avoided which could come at a cost if the party I am dealing with is put in an uncomfortable situation and I don’t realize it.  And I got all that from my extremely brief International Marketing class at college.  Think about the insight I could gain if I actually travelled to and worked in Japan for a few weeks or even a few months.

There is no reason why we need to be restricted by our cultural diversity or lack there-of.

With all the educational travel opportunities available through the hundreds of organizations, there is no excuse for not being diverse on a global scale.  At the very least you can Google the information but that does not compare to living it firsthand.

Here is my advice.  Consider taking some time away to live it firsthand.  If you are a student, take a semester off or commit your summer vacation to doing an international internship.  If you are a more seasoned professional and don’t feel like you are able to take what amounts to 3-6 months off in order to do an internship, consider completing an educational tourism program where you take an intense two week vacation that is dedicated to learning a new skill and immersing yourself in the culture at the same time.  Imagine that you are a senior journalism editor and you had the chance to travel to Cuba to work on an international magazine alongside Cuban locals, engaging in everyday conversations and business interactions.  It would be not only thrilling but a wonderful career advancing use of those vacations days you have been allocated. 

When it comes right down to it, diversity is here to stay.  Globalization of the workplace is happening.  International internships, edutourism travel programs and further training are the tools you need to adapt.  Because when it comes right down to it, the business world is changing and if you want to stay ahead of the curve and not close off any avenues of opportunity, you need to be prepared.

Remember, diversity is sexy attractive in a good-for-customer-service-and-innovated-work-environment kind of ways and not an Alessandro-is-super-cute-when-he-has-no-shirt-on kind of a way.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Thailand is Calling... I Hope They Are Not Calling Collect

Ok, so Thailand probably isn’t on the phone for you.  But chances are they will send you an e-mail if you are interested in getting in touch with the Ministry of Education.  In fact, they will probably jump at the chance to respond to your e-mails because English speaking teachers are in high demand and they are looking to hire a lot of them over the next few years.

This topic is probably going to be most interesting to students currently at teacher’s college, completing concurrent education programs or are a recent graduate of either one of those aforementioned options.  However there really are no limitations in age or education with this topic so listen up and pass this around if you know people who might be interested. 

Why are we talking about Thailand today?  Well other than the fact that I thought Cuba deserved a break, there are exciting opportunities currently available that people need to jump on right now to take advantage of before the chance disappears.  So get ready to jump in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

The Thai educational system is growing at a rapid rate.  The government in Thailand spends approximately 27% of their annual budget on education compared to the 14-17% that many other countries spend which gives you a pretty good idea of how strong their commitment is to the development of the next generations. 

The Ministry of Education is building more schools, increasing class sizes and going on a hiring spree in order to cope.  Both the public and private school systems are glutted with children and the demand is only increasing.  This is causing quite a dilemma actually.  The flux in the demand for teachers isn’t being met.  Well actually that is only partially true.  There are teachers for math, social studies, geography, history, and all those other lovely subjects that were the bane of my existence back in elementary school.  I particularly wasn’t a fan of history.  Remembering all those dates and odd names of dead people was never an interest of mine.  What Thailand needs however, are English teachers.

Now I am not talking English teachers like we have here in high school where everything revolved around reading this really old book and writing a 20 page report on the different themes, prevalent characters and how the author was beyond his or her time.  I am talking about English teachers that are more similar to our French teachers, where it is more like conjugate this noun and this verb and remember that the little accent goes to the left instead of the right. 

I am referring to English as a Second Language.

Obviously your English is impeccable otherwise reading this article would be a bit of a tedious task.  So already you meet one of the qualifications the Ministry of Education has for their teachers. 

Due to the globalization of the workplace and international business boarders becoming obsolete thanks to technology, the business world is changing in favour of western culture.  The use of English is most prevalent in media and the internet.  The Thai government has long since realized the importance of the English language and is aggressively pursuing solutions to the language barrier, making English a core subject in the curriculum.  So crucial is the implementation and incorporation of the English language to student education, many private schools and even some public schools are beginning to offer other core subjects such as math and business in English as well. 

The Ministry provides twelve years of formal education for all Thai students.  Six years at the primary level, and six years of secondary education.  Students are required to complete at least nine years of schooling.  The current education system is undergoing reform as class sizes are becoming larger with as many as 60 students due to the gross flux of demand and the underwhelming number of qualified teachers to fill that void.

Several thousand English native speakers are employed in the public and private school sectors.  This practise is growing as it encourages the students to develop oral expressions and increase their knowledge of a foreign culture.

Why is this all so exciting?  Well, as I have mentioned, they need teachers who speak English and as it turns out, you speak English.  Therefore, you qualify for this experience. 

Think about it.  If you are a student teacher trying to get your degree then you understand the importance of getting classroom experience under your belt before you are launched into the fray of 30 some odd sticky and sweaty unruly 5th graders.  My father is a teacher and has been for the past 25 years.  The stories he comes home with would shock you at times as you wonder how kids can be so unreasonable.  You have to respect the amount of patience and experience (and restraint)  it takes to be able to deal with an 11th grader who decided he couldn’t wait to use the bathroom and peed out the back door of the classroom.

So what do most future teachers do in order to gain this valuable experience before they are tossed to the wolves?  They volunteer in the classroom, get a job at a summer camp, find another teacher to be a mentor and a host of other activities all while going to school and trying to earn enough money to pay for said school since teacher’s college can take a minimum of four years. 

Now we get to the really exciting part.  The Ministry of Education in Thailand is offering teaching students a chance to come to Thailand and teach.  They will provide you with accommodations, food, a job and a weekly stipend of spending money.  They will train you, offer in-class experience dealing with students, mentor you, and share their culture, language and an endless supply of smiles.

If you accept an internship position in Thailand, it will not only benefit your future career (after all a teaching gig in Thailand is going to look great on your resume) but it will provide an amazing experience that you will be able to talk about for the rest of your life.  Consider the fact that you will gain a global perspective for your career.  You will be introduced to new teaching styles and practices that you would never have encountered if you stayed in Canada which will shape and round you out into a more effective leader of your classroom. 

Like I said, get ready to jump.  Ask your school advisors what international internships are available to you in the teaching field.  Your experience might even be able to count as course credits.  Thailand is not the only place offering teaching internship positions either. 

Not a student?  That’s fine too.  Many seasoned and professional teachers that are looking to take a break from their normal classrooms are signing up for international teaching programs too.  It provides valuable insight, a unique perspective and can prove to be quite the adventure.

Not a professional teacher?  You are still welcomed to participate.  The Thai government recognizes that English speaking natives without college or university programs also have a lot of knowledge to offer students.  In fact, the only two requirements you need in order to apply for an international program with the Ministry of Education is that a) you speak English fluently and b) you are at least 18 years old.

Do your research.  Below are links to general information on the Thai education system and some featured programs that you might be interested in.


Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Putting Cuba in the Spotlight

I have used Cuba in a number of examples in my recent blog posts (whether you have caught on to that or not) and there is a perfectly good reason for it.  Cuba is fantastic. 

That statement alone should be enough to convince you to consider it as a destination for your next trip. After all, who are you to argue with me?  However, since I am a reasonable person, I suppose I will provide you with a few more facts to back up my hypothesis. 

1. Cuba is colourful.  If you have ever seen a picture of a simple store front in Cuba this point is obvious as they truly support the full spectrum of colours in their decorating schemes, houses, clothing and art.  From the teal blue vintage car parked beneath a palm tree to the festive purple and yellow street entertainers on stilts, you won’t find any watered down, grey tones in this country, in fact there might just be an unwritten law against them.

It is not just the landscape though but the culture which is where the country’s real colours come out.  From the bone crushing handshake you receive from store owners to the animated gestures of people leaning out the windows and shouting across the street to one another, there is truly something spectacular about a culture of people who are not run by their schedules and believe that any time of day is a good time for a siesta. 

2. Cuba is warm. This point really doesn’t need an explanation if you consider that I am writing this post in Canada, during January and it is minus -12 outside, feeling more like -26 with the wind chill and there is about two feet of snow on the ground that I am going to have to scrap off my car at the end of the day.  I’d be willing to trade my snow shovel and frostbite for a beach and a mojito in a heartbeat.  And I bet you would be too, so let’s move on.

3. The Cuban people.  Let me explain.  Besides the fact that tourism is Cuba’s largest source of economic exchange making the travel industry extremely vital to the Cuban people and therefore tourists extremely important as a result, Cuban people are friendly and naturally will make you feel welcomed.  You will be greeted with smiles from the minute you step off the plane.  If you are Canadian you can probably expect to be treated even better with extended tourist cards automatically included in your airfare and locals that will go above and beyond to cater to your needs.  But as I said, the Cuban culture is open and always eager to make friends.  From the bartenders serving you delicious daiquiris (which isn’t surprising since we all know that bartenders are basically underpaid, unlicensed psychiatrists in disguise) to the maids at the resort, almost anyone you meet will happily listen to your life’s story and tell you their own.  The Cuban workers legitimately appreciate the tourists that actually take the time to be friendly almost more than they appreciate tips. 

4. Learning opportunities.  Are you looking to get into the education, healthcare, hospitality or tourism sector?  Cuba is a great place to look for internships or even participate in a short crash course educational program on cigar making.  With the aforementioned friendliness of the people, they are eager to share what they have and teach the next generations.  Cuba has many high quality colleges and universities such as the University of Havana.  One of their main exports is pharmaceutical supplies which indicated that their healthcare system and medical advances aren’t exactly lacking either.  Despite what many people think, Cuba is not an impoverished nation when compared to the majority of the world.  Yes, they do have a socialist society and many people live on $20.00 a month.  But when your housing, education and healthcare is all free, electricity is cheap and you can pick up a week supply of food for on a few dollars at the local market, the system works.  And in terms of education or maybe just a new cultural viewpoint, they have much to teach the world.

If you are interested in picking up a bit of the local culture, language and learning something new in the process, there are programs available to help get you connected.  A number of international internship programs are bridging the gap and crossing borders to bring students to Cuba so that they can continue their education in a hands-on learning environment.  There are also shorter programs for people who might just want to have a unique experience on their next week long vacation.  Four month long internships in education or two week long edutourism programs in photography are all possible.  And let’s face it, that sounds much more exciting than being stuck in an office building while the snow piles up outside.

Here is a quick list of just some of the educational tourism options available to tourists that only have a few days or weeks for their vacation but want to learn something new and interesting:
  •   Water Ballet
  •   Photography
  •   Fine Art Canvas Painting
  •   Vintage Car Mechanic
  •   Cuban Jazz Musician
  •   Cuban Dance
  •   Cocktail Artist
  •   The Art of Scents
  •   Baseball
  •   Architecture Restoration
Check out the CubaPLUS magazine for more featured articles on some of the sights and attractions that can be found in Cuba.  And if you are interested in inquiring about international Cuban internship programs and tourism information, check out the resources listed below.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Your job might not be overseas but chances are some of your clients and suppliers are.

You’ve recently been hired at a new kitchen appliance distribution and manufacturing company.  Congratulations.  You are feeling confident and are ready to hit the ground running.  You meet your co-workers, get a quick tour of the office, learn that the copier is on the fritz again and are dropped off at your cubical to get started.  You dive into a small stack of paperwork that has you contacting suppliers and checking on the status of an ongoing project with partners at a different firm and suddenly the task which didn’t seem so large in the first place is overwhelming.  Why?  Because the supplier who provides your company with the machinery parts for the waffle iron is in Cuba and those aforementioned project partners are in Japan.  You don’t understand their accents, you are getting frustrated that the Cubans can’t keep to a deadline, and the Japanese won’t put anything in writing that you can pass along to your boss.  Welcome to the workplace of the 21st century. 

Blame technology.  With all the ways businesses can connect with each other, international collaboration and the globalization of the workplace is increasing at an incredible rate.  And this increase has spurred a new demand in business.  Companies are adopting a globalized outlook on business and therefore it might come as no surprise that companies want to hire employees with international experience. 

Globalization of the workplace simply means that businesses are now communicating and dealing with other companies overseas in a larger way than they ever have before.  In my first job coming out of college, I landed a position with a career college and was surprised to discover just how frequently I would be connecting with international partners and clients, some as far away as Thailand.  It was something I never would have imagined but all of a sudden I am being expected to communicate efficiently and effectively with our partners and that meant having to do things such as translating e-mail correspondence back and forth between English and Thai as well as understand the nuances of how they do business.  And having rarely left the confines of my own province let alone this continent, I was completely unprepared.  Thank goodness for Google Translate and Wikipedia.

Suddenly I was extremely grateful for the scant amount of French that I was forced to learn back in elementary school because it meant that at least the Spanish and the Italian wasn’t completely going over my head. 

According to an article posted by Robert Shindell, the number one job skill that employers are looking for is communication skills.  This typically translates into reading, writing and listening but in the 21st century, more and more companies are including a second language requirement under that heading.  Having a second language is not only practical in the workplace, but it is also an indicator to employers that you have the discipline it takes to commit to a long term task such as becoming bi- or trilingual. 

The benefit of having a cultural experience on your resume doesn’t stop at languages either.  Cheryl Matherly and Dianace Robinson, guest authors for an article in the Wall Street Journal, explain that having global credentials “increase[s] your marketability in the global workplace”.  Many colleges and universities offer study abroad opportunities that help to prepare students for an international work environment because this is not a fad or a phase that the workforce is going through.  Globalization is the future of the business world and it is important that students take this trend seriously.

Enough though with the scare tactics about how you are doomed to fail if you don’t get international experience.  I never did and it wasn’t the end of the world (pardon the pun).  However I do realize quite easily just how much more attractive my resume would have been to potential employers if I had.

My resume coming out of college looked exactly like thousands of other resumes being submitted to HR departments.  Every single one of the classmates I had been with over the past four years had learned the exact same subjects, courses and industry terminology as I had.  And there were hundreds of other new graduates from hundreds of other schools and related programs that had all learned something extremely similar.  I was not unique by a long shot. 

Participating in an international internship does not guarantee you a job.  Nothing in this day and age is guaranteed.  But it does make you stand out perhaps just a rung above all the average, uninspiring resumes like mine.  Yes, you went to college, but so did 78 other candidates.  Oh, you graduated with high honours? That narrows it down to 63.  Your interests are sports and travel?  57.  Last year you travelled to Cuba to spend the summer doing a number of historical architectural restoration projects with a small contracting company in Havana?  1. You.

International Career Studies - http://www.internationalcareerstudies.com/edutourism