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How to Properly Educate and Train Expatriates

Sean Peek
Sean Peek

Do you ever need to relocate employees for international assignments? Here's how and why you should tailor your company's classes for expatriates.

Expatriate education and training are necessary in a global marketplace to ensure effective communication and business success. Expatriate training programs within your company could include language courses, international business development or cultural communications – but don't leave out the most personal aspect of international assignments. Often, it's a family's inability to adapt that leads to initial assignment hiccups.

What are expatriate training programs?

Expatriate training programs are used when relocating employees, and their families, to an international location. The goal is to make sure employees can get quickly acclimated to living in their new country. While a lot of training courses provide guidance for the employee on how they can get adjusted to working in a new environment, the best courses focus on helping families establish housing, find the best education programs for their children, and more.

FYIFYI: Research shows there is a 40% assignment failure rate for U.S. expatriates. This is due to a lack of resources available for both employees and their families to help them adjust to their new surroundings.

What expatriate training should focus on

Focus your expatriates' training on business issues, certainly, but also provide information that involves your employees' spouses and children.

  1. Begin expatriates' training at the cultural level to emphasize communication and eliminate cultural missteps.
  2. Continue expatriate training and family education with comprehensive programs that offer support for the length of the assignment.
  3. Conclude courses for expatriates with repatriation training.

1. Provide cultural and business communication education for basic knowledge.

Basic expatriate training and development should focus on the country of assignment – its culture, language and laws. Provide education for expatriates that properly prepares them to conduct business on your company's behalf without any delays due to misunderstandings with international stakeholders.

In addition to business education, provide the employee with resources to help them get acclimated in their personal life. If an expatriate is struggling to adjust to daily life in a foreign country, the assignment could be a failure due to underperformance. By providing support in their host country, companies can help make the transition more comfortable for the expat and boost their performance.

2. Continue training while they are on assignment.

Most training for expatriate assignments will introduce an employee to their new station, but it's just as important to offer consistent, always-available support in case the expat has a question for the pros. Develop an expatriate training program with a professional consulting service that educates, trains and supports international business employees throughout their assignments abroad.

3. Identify courses that offer repatriation training and support.

One of the most important classes for expatriates is often overlooked. Global business studies by the Society for Human Resources Management have concluded that nearly half of all expats leave their current company for a competitor after an international assignment.

  • Many expat training consulting companies help expatriates' families establish housing, find children's educational facilities, and start online degree programs for employees and their spouses. They also offer counseling and peer-support linking services, so before you sign on with a provider of expatriate education, ask if the package includes these services.
  • Provide links from your company's website for expatriates in need of support. Whether you link to your chosen expat training and consulting company or provide a discussion forum for expats and their families, show that you value your offsite employees and want their transition, assignment, and homecoming to be effortless and thoroughly supported. By showing support, expats will feel more connected and loyal to the company throughout their assignment and when they return home.

Why expatriate training is important

Investing in an expatriate can have expensive upfront costs, but ultimately spending the money on proper training will cost a company far less than a failed assignment. These are some of the benefits of training your expatriates.

Less waste

Not properly training an expatriate will result in a waste of resources. An expatriate needs to be properly prepared for a change in culture, new languages and new ways of interacting and working with others. Given that many of these international assignments and projects often cost millions, an ill-prepared employee can cause a wide variety of issues for a company. By ensuring the employee is trained properly, you reduce the risk of assignment failure and make the expatriate’s efforts worthwhile by setting them up for success ahead of time.

Great performance

A properly trained expatriate is also a better-performing one. Learning their duties in another country and/or language can make it difficult for the expatriate to fully understand and perform their duties. It’s important to remember that just because an employee gets the job done well in their home country, doesn’t mean additional preparation is needed before conducting business abroad. By ensuring they have been properly trained in their home country before embarking on their journey, you can also ensure that they are performing to the best of their abilities.

Happy employees and families

According to Allianz Care, while family matters may not seem to be an immediate issue, proper training can help the expatriates maintain a stable family unit. This journey can be even harder for the family of expats, as they are often underprepared and not provided the same resources as the employee. Families can have a hard time adjusting to their new environments, so also providing them with resources can help both the expatriate and their family successfully adapt. This is imperative, as having a stable, supportive family is one of the main ways expats are able to remain content and focus on their assignments.

Improved use of language

No matter how well the expat may speak a foreign language, practice makes perfect. Terms and phrases that they are not familiar with will likely be a major part of the job. If an expat can’t communicate with others within their job, they won’t be able to effectively lead in their position. By taking the time to train them on using the language of the location they will be living in, you'll better prepare them to not only complete their assignments, but to thrive in another country.

Did you know?Did you know? Research finds that 60% of senior management believe lack of language skills is the biggest challenge as an expat. However, only 37% of employers offer any kind of training course to strengthen language skills.

Seamless integration

No matter how intelligent the expat may be, there is always a learning curve for both them and the company they work with. While the expat has to learn how to acclimate to the new workplace culture and get familiar with new employees, the company must learn the best ways to train and work with the expat to ensure they are set up for success. Expats should receive clear direction as to what is expected of them while on assignment and have proper guidance as they integrate into a new environment.

Reasonable cultural expectations

One of the greatest benefits of training expats is that it will allow you to manage their expectations beforehand in a controlled environment. According to UrbanBound, studies show that the most failed expat missions occur with American expats who are going to the U.K. Although this seems surprising, it actually makes sense when you consider the vast cultural differences outside of linguistics. Cultural differences are some of the hardest issues for expats to deal with and should be talked about when preparing for assignments.

Americans are more likely to believe that there is not much of a cultural difference between America and the U.K. compared to other foreign countries, which is likely one of the reasons American expats fail in the U.K. This is why it's so important to set reasonable expectations for the expat and prepare them for the new culture before they relocate.

Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images
Sean Peek
Sean Peek Contributing Writer
Sean Peek has written more than 100 B2B-focused articles on various subjects including business technology, marketing and business finance. In addition to researching trends, reviewing products and writing articles that help small business owners, Sean runs a content marketing agency that creates high-quality editorial content for both B2B and B2C businesses.