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International Competence - More than a Trend

Employers increasingly rely on employees with international experience. Proven language skills are no longer enough. What is needed to compete in today's world is international competence.

International markets are of great economic importance to Swiss companies. According to a recent study on the export activities of Swiss SMEs, jointly conducted by Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE) and Credit Suisse, 42.2% of the 200 Swiss SMEs surveyed are expected to increase their exports for the coming quarter. A large proportion (90%) of the companies indicated that in the coming six months they were planning to export goods and services to Europe. (Multiple answers were possible.) 55% of Swiss SMEs are likely to export to the Asia-Pacific region. 43% will export to the USA, 30% to the Middle East and Africa and 21% to South America. The success rate is critically dependent on companies' market knowledge as well as access, and requires specific international expertise. A market entry strategy for Iran, for instance, calls for special negotiation skills. Export is not the only issue, however, that is linked to international expertise. Increasing global interdependence can affect any company, be it through its supplier relationships or its strategic alliances with partners. Procurement and sales markets extend far beyond the borders of Switzerland. At the same time, companies are becoming more international themselves. For many of them, the ability to manage multicultural teams has become a standard requirement. Growing competition from abroad, finally, means that the Swiss economy has to know about, and deal with, its competitors. Specific continuing education programs are needed in Switzerland to support the development of international competence and prevent companies from having to go abroad to recruit internationally skilled staff.

International Competence
Many employees gain some international experience in the course of their working life. Some have international origins, have lived and worked abroad or with people from other cultures. This is not enough, however, to generate international competence or a profound understanding of people from other cultures and their behaviors. The conversion of international experience into international competence takes work, in-depth discussion and reflection. International competence is a combination of international (specialist) knowledge - knowledge of international issues, processes and actors - and a thorough understanding of intercultural mechanisms, such as the ability to communicate and work effectively with people from other countries and cultures. International competence involves hard as well as soft skills - both of which can be learned and practiced.

Lifelong Learning to Remain Agile and Attractive for the Job Market
With regard to the local employment market, the demand in particular for transferable skills has increased. Business executives involved in recruitment and job applicants interviewing for management positions agree: Frequently, interviews focus more on candidates’ problem-solving and appropriate methodological skills than on their professional background. The general consensus is that international experience and training in dealing with different cultures are a decisive advantage. Increased internationalization, the multicultural composition of teams, and cross-border collaboration are here to stay and affect almost every organization. Due to the dynamic nature of these developments, employees today are expected to be highly committed to and flexible about lifelong learning. To compete in the employment market, their skills have to match the demands of the workplace as closely as possible. This in turn means that international competence should be continuously updated, and that it should be re-learned and practiced regularly in an educational setting. Systematic analysis of international business segments, reflection of global trends, and the assessment of risks are examples of international skills that can be learned. Intercultural mechanisms, too, can be analyzed and discussed, making it easier to manage multicultural teams. Also, knowledge of intercultural negotiation methods creates a better understanding of other cultures and thus a basis for productive solutions.

Universities as Knowledge Providers: Customized Continuing Education
Due to a growing demand for international expertise and associated competencies, universities offer an increasing number of continuing education programs in this field. Yet even in traditional business administration programs such as the "MAS in Business Administration", international management has become an integral part of the curriculum. While universities continue to promote professional, methodological, social, and self-skills, these days they use a variety of (international) contexts to deliver them.

A company looking for management training that meets very specific demands should consider a customized training program. Participants gain targeted insight into the workings of global markets and the challenges related to them. At the same time, they examine specific challenges of intercultural management. In addition to knowledge of international markets, participants focus on the characteristics of specific cultures. They analyze intercultural problems based on the specific situation of a company and use this information to develop solution-oriented concepts.

Success due to International Competence
International competence is essential in today's job market. Employees and employers both benefit if skills related to international competence are honed and developed further. International situations are part of everyday life, and we need to learn how to deal with them. Equipped with a toolkit of expertise and intercultural understanding, many challenges can be overcome more effectively and efficiently.