Short on skills? Get globalizing, not left behind

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The gap between what job seekers can do and what employers need is widening, but the increasing ease of long-distance working relationships is helping smart companies fill those gaps.

A Harvard Business School study shows that a combination of improving communications technology, certain regions being rich in specialized skills, and a cheap supply of skilled labour overseas has driven this trend.

“Innovations are increasingly brought to the market by networks of firms, selected for their unique capabilities, and operating in a coordinated manner,” says study co-author Alan MacCormack. “Collaboration is becoming a new and important source of competitive advantage.”

Academic and private research organizations are leading the charge on collaboration, but other industries aren’t far behind. From pharmaceutical companies working together on breakthroughs, to tele-learning at universities, organizations are discovering that if they can find the talent and skills outside Canada, they can feed the best of global talent into their projects.

Agri-Food Canada works with international organizations around the world to build on local advances. Each location has specific expertise and has dealt with different problems, so the combination of experiences and skills gives the whole project an advantage.

“Our collaboration with China and Israel leverages our mutual knowledge and promises to yield new solutions to food production, security and sustainability challenges,” says Dr Yvon Martel, the organization’s chief scientist, international.

However, MacCormack’s team found that some organizations make key mistakes when they try to collaborate. Many had an “outsourcing” attitude focused on lowering costs, which led to those firms treating collaborators like suppliers rather than partners. Some also failed to train staff for co-operation and collaboration, assuming their workers’ current skills would be sufficient.

While lower costs are definitely an advantage, MacCormack says the organizations that succeeded recognized the value of international partners’ inputs and prepared their staff before the start of a project on how to work with their colleagues overseas.

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