Topics to include in a pre-departure training program

March 20, 2019

It is estimated the number of expats working around the world could increase to almost 90 million by 2021. For international human resource managers (IHRMs) this represents both an opportunity and threat. Growing employee mobility allows businesses to expand into new markets where the required skills are not available locally. However, expatriate management is challenging for IHRM’s. The process of selecting, preparing and implementing a successful expatriate placement programme may face difficulties.

Expat failure is estimated to be between 20% and 40% depending on industry and location. The cost of expat failure for US businesses alone, is in the region of $2 billion. It is easy to see why developing the right expatriate management strategy is crucial. 

We have established  the benefits of pre departure training for employees taking up an expatriate role. If you are tasked with developing a pre-departure training program it can be difficult to know where to begin. There are several components that should be included to provide expat candidates with the best opportunity for success:

Cross cultural understanding is key to expatriate success. David Livermore, an expert on cultural intelligence, conducted research on expats over ten years. It showed cultural intelligence is more beneficial than even language fluency when it comes to a successful assignment. Pre-departure training programme should be tailored to the location the expat candidate is moving to. At a minimum cross cultural training should aim to:

  • Identify the cultural similarities and differences in a destination
  • Demonstrate ways of identifying and adjusting plans to align with the new culture
  • Provide tailored overview of appropriate verbal and nonverbal behaviour by situation  

This sensitivity training is also useful in minimising culture shock amongst expats, particularly those on their first assignment.

This is going to be a significant part of pre-departure training and should cover topics as diverse as:

  • Politics of the country
  • Tax and insurance
  • Medical treatment
  • Finding a place to live
  • Buying a car and rules of the road
  • Childcare and education (if applicable)
  • Doing business
  • Nuances about culture and history

This is in no way an exhaustive list. The information required will vary depending on the needs of your candidates.

Secondary to understanding the culture of their new country, it is useful for expat employees to develop language skills. It helps build relationships and rapport with new colleagues. A lack of language skills was one of the biggest challenges faced by 60% of senior management in expat rolls. Yet only 37% of employers offered language skills as part of pre-assignment training. Managers who could communicate with colleagues in the local language, found employees were more motivated to achieve organisational goals.

The expat and host manager should have a series of project alignment meetings in the run up to and during the assignment. They can discuss the company’s goals and cultural differences that might impact the success of the international assignment. These meetings usually cover topics like:

  • Timelines
  • Milestones
  • Reporting
  • Expectations

Another key component of pre-assignment training is outlining the support the expat will receive while abroad. These requirements will vary by location and role but may include:

  • Logistical assistance with moving
  • Support for spouse and children
  • Assistance with admin in their new home
  • Mentoring
  • Connecting with other expats
  • Staying connected with home

Establishing a pre-departure training programme containing some of these elements should prepare those about to travel abroad for what lies ahead.

Many expats travelling abroad are concerned about accessing healthcare while they are away. If this is highlighted in pre-departure meetings in your organisation, we can help arrange international health insurance for your employees. If you are an IHRM with questions about expat health insurance, please get in touch, we are happy to help.