International Opinion

Grads: Get Globally Competent and Get a Job!

By Heather Singmaster — June 07, 2012 4 min read
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Graduates today are entering one of the toughest job markets in generations. The global youth unemployment rate is at 12.7%, and in some countries, it is double or even triple that. Telling someone to “get a job” might be a tall if not impossible order, but sending our K-12 students this message could be a real service to them as they consider their futures. My colleague Heather Singmaster reports.

June means many things: summer, vacations, and of course, graduations. A whole host of students are either thinking about what to major in this fall or are graduating and thinking about their first foray into the job market. I have previously written about job skills needed for the 21st century and a recent spat of articles seem to agree: to get ahead, it’s important to go global!

For tiger moms, Forbes magazine recently listed its top majors for the class of 2022. I was pleased to see one of the tenants of global competence, speaking a second language, highlighted: “No matter what career you decide to go into, there are two things that you need to learn no matter what. The first is a second language - and based on demographics, we recommend that language be Spanish due to the influx of Hispanics into the United States or alternatively Hindi or Portuguese to deal with businesses from the India and Brazilian powerhouses.”

For those of you who forgot to start planning your career path at age eight, Forbes editor for Asia John Koppisch, recommends that current graduates: “Look for your first job in Asia. Economies are booming and companies are often desperate for educated and skilled job seekers. English-speaking cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore, especially, have almost no unemployment and quickly absorb anyone qualified who lands on their shores. Often you can get hired by a Western company, quickly get promoted because of the fast growth, and then after a few years move back to the States with that company.” Of course to succeed this way, you will need to understand other cultures and be able to work within them, another key tenet of global competence.

One of the hot majors that Forbes list for the next ten years is the hospitality industry, predicting that while we spend more time at home in a virtual world, restaurants and clubs will be venues for real, personal contact with human beings. Nowhere does this appear to be more true than in China, where the hospitality business is booming. The China National Tourism Administration predicts that Chinese domestic travel will reach 3.3 billion trips in 2015 and expand by 5% - 8% each year until 2030. That’s a plum that Western companies can’t ignore. For instance, Intercontinental Hotels Group recently announced a new luxury brand specifically for China called Hualuxe with plans to operate in 100 Chinese cities within 15 to 20 years. And surprisingly, the group expects that half of revenue will come not from room sales, but from restaurant and bars - giving some credence to Forbes prediction.

If you aren’t prepared to work abroad, don’t worry; they are coming to you! The number of Chinese tourists visiting the United States is expected to double from the record-setting number of 1.1 million in 2011. Chinese visitors spend $6,000 on average per trip, $2,000 more than travelers from other countries. And a favorite activity is luxury shopping because the taxes outside of China are much lower. This is creating a shortage of employees who speak Mandarin and Cantonese and who understand the needs of their clientele.

Of course the hospitality industry in major cities isn’t the only area where jobs are booming for the globally competent. Look at the Twin Cities where exports grew 32 percent between 2003 and 2010, and new jobs in marketing, engineering, and manufacturing are being created. The only difficulty is filling them. For instance the Minnetonka based company, Datacard, has open positions in these fields, but needs employees who speak a second language or know how to work with customers and salespeople in markets like China and Brazil. And Schaefer Ventilation, another small Minnesota based firm is seeing success exporting to the Middle East and adding local jobs as it does so. Meanwhile in North Carolina, a new “heat map,” provides a snapshot of what’s global in each of the state’s 100 counties. For the first time, county-specific global demographic, education, and economic is data is presented in one place, allowing potential employers to look for an employee base with specific strengths, such as an ability to speak Chinese.

Let’s not forget those who took all of those years of high school Spanish! (I myself speak Spanish and have a Masters in Latin American Studies, but work for the Asia Society, now who could have predicted that a generation ago?). There is job growth in marketing to Hispanics/Latinos—the largest minority group in the U.S. and the fastest growing population according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Says Gonzalo Perez, owner of research firm Motivo Insights, understanding this growing market will require workers to “be comfortable with the complexity of today’s young Latinos. They have this contextual identity, and they’re not all the same....” Perez continues, “75% of young Latinos learned of a brand through a social network—[that’s] more than non-Latinos.” He predicts that app sales will grow for this market, which leads us to the second thing Forbes says you will need to learn “no matter what": how to program!

So whether you are eight, eighteen, or twenty-eight, it is clear: global competence can open up new job opportunities for you.

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