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The secret to doing business in Asia

6 October 20150 comments

Australian businesses could be missing out on opportunities in Asia because of a lack of understanding of what it takes to be successful in working in Asian markets, a new survey has found.

The Diversity Council Australia (DCA) has carried out a national survey of more than 2,000 Australian workers to generate the first ever scorecard of the Australian workforce’s ‘Asia Capability’ (AQ).

‘AQ’ is defined as individuals’ ability to interact effectively in Asian countries and cultures, and with people from Asian cultural backgrounds, to achieve work goals.

The DCA report titled, Leading in the Asian Century: A National Scorecard of Australia’s Workforce Asia Capability, found there was significant scope to cultivate better Asia capability in Australian organisations

“For Australian businesses, one of the biggest impediments to realising business and investment opportunities in the Asian region is a lack of understanding about Asia capabilities – in particular which capabilities are critical to business success and how prevalent they are in the workforce,” the report said.

It found there was a strong business case for fostering workforce AQ.  Seven out of Australia’s top ten export markets are in Asia, and constitute 66% of our total export market. More than 50% of the world’s population lives in Asia and its consumer demand is worth US$10 trillion annually, similar to the US.

But the report said a third of Australian workers have low AQ. While one in ten of all Australian workers have excellent Asia capability, a third have none or very little.

Close to two-thirds of workers have no or very little working knowledge of how to effectively manage in an Asian business context. Overall, Australia’s workforce scored three out of five for Asia capability.

The report found Australian senior executives and managers are more likely to have excellent Asia capability than non-managers; 13.9% of managerial workers versus 10.3% of non-managerial workers.

“AQ is considerably higher in some groups – in particular the 16.7% of Australian workers who have an Asian cultural identity, the 15.9% who have lived and worked in Asia and the 20.9% who can read, write and/or speak an Asian language,” the report said.

But only 5.1% of workers are fluent in one or more Asian languages.

The report said having business interests in Asia doesn’t guarantee AQ.

“Workers in organisations with Asian business interests are less likely to have excellent Asia capability (16.4%) compared with workers in an organisation with an Asian head office (29.8%),” it said.

DCA CEO Lisa Annese said: “There is little doubt that Asia presents enormous opportunities for Australian organisations. But what’s been less clear is how well equipped we are to grasp these opportunities.

“Through this research, we can now see how and what we need to do to cultivate workforce Asia capability in organisations.

“The good news is that the solution is already available to us – if we focus on existing Asian-identifying talent, as well as better recognising and rewarding workers who have lived and worked in Asia, as well as those who have Asian language proficiency,” Ms Annese said.



Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist