A friend recently asked my opinion on why continents like Africa and parts of Asia are so poor despite their vast natural resources. To this question, my initial comments on the subject were that lacking cultural legacies around the pursuit of education and the learning process may (in some poorer regions of the world) be contributing to these population’s struggles economically despite otherwise considerable indigenous wealth.
…As I pondered this question more over the weekend, my focus eventually shifted to a huge challenge many organizations are facing as they globalize their operations; specifically, as companies move into third world countries where poverty is often a constant and general population education levels are subsistent they find that there often isn’t enough talent available to run key operations.
I am a huge advocate of companies leveraging access to education and information to improve their employee’s life outcomes and develop skilled workforces. Beyond increasing accessibility to knowledge, however, in countries where the prospective employee population doesn’t have a strong educational background it is also important to teach them how to learn. By this I mean that the discipline required to commit oneself to learning and development (and the actual process of learning new KSAs itself) is one that is cultivated over time. We live in an age in which information is more accessible than at any other point in human history; but in regions of the globe where people don’t understand how to leverage that vast body of knowledge access alone is not enough to improve life circumstances.
Cognizant of this reality, many organizations resort to using expats to augment and/or supplement their workforces in places where local talent lacks the educational pedigree and critical experiences to lead enterprises at the management (or even technical individual contributor) level: This is an understandable approach to a complex business problem; the challenge of addressing agency issues in communities deeply impacted by poverty is neither quick nor easy (and in most cases well beyond the scope of what any singular organization would be wise to attempt to solve on its own).
In this respect I see the role of the HR function as absolutely critical: Talent, learning, and development leaders will be tasked with ensuring their organizations have tools and resources that prepare domestic talent to be immediate contributors by seamlessly accounting for regional differences in cultural values, knowledge, skills, and abilities. Meeting this challenge will involve (among other things) partnering with governments on education initiatives, putting together training programs that facilitate learning of internal systems and processes, and working with cross-functional teams to develop technology that complements the existing skill-sets of native employee populations.
This is big – and exciting – work: How far along is your organization in this journey?
As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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