By Dr. Huub Ruël.
Windesheim University of Applied Sciences (Zwolle).
Commercial diplomacy has become a priority in the foreign policies of many countries around the world. Embassies and consulates play an important role in effective commercial diplomacy. For this they need qualified staff. But how are commercial diplomats selected and trained for their work?
For many young professionals, working as a diplomat can be very rewarding, and many diplomats love their work as they experience it as being relevant. Being a commercial diplomat usually means living in a foreign country, with family or partner, for a number of years. In addition to commercial and business skills, it requires skills and competences to adapt to new environments, legislation, cultures, lifestyles, and build networks. How do they perceive the nature of their work and living abroad?
We[i] conducted a study on commercial diplomats’ work satisfaction and level of adaption by interviewing a group of commercial diplomats, and inviting them to fill out a questionnaire.
The results showed that most commercial diplomats in our study were hired by the diplomatic service immediately after they finished their initial university degree program. They were then trained to become a generalist, rather than a specialist in commercial diplomacy. Hardly any of the commercial diplomats in our study had private sector experience. For most of them, the nature of the work, lifestyle and career development opportunities were the motivating factors to apply for a position in the diplomatic service.
Commercial diplomats in our study mentioned that they do not receive significant training during their stay at a foreign post. Specific training programs on marketing, commerce and finance were not provided in most cases.
Regarding work satisfaction, female commercial diplomats appeared to be more satisfied with their work than their male colleagues, and commercial diplomats working in developed countries were more satisfied than ones working in emerging economies.
Commercial diplomats seemed to be well adapted to living and working in their host countries. Our study showed that receiving cross-cultural training is positively related to both general adaption and work adaption. The duration of experience in current postings does contribute to general adaption, but not to work adaption.
Our study suggests that general adaption and work adaption seem to have a positive influence on work satisfaction. The more commercial diplomats feel adapted to living abroad and to their work, the greater their work satisfaction.
In conclusion, our study indicates that countries need to improve the preparation and training of their current and future commercial diplomats. Training in business and commerce as well as cross-cultural training can improve the commercial diplomats’ adaption to living abroad and to their work. This in turn contributes to their overall work satisfaction.
Since commercial diplomacy has become important for many countries, it is key to recruit, select and train professionals specifically to develop their commercial diplomacy competences. Training programs for young diplomats should contain modules on international business and trade and investment promotion, and additional programs should be offered during postings. The modern international business environment is complex and requires highly qualified diplomats.
[i] Together with Thomas Binnenmars MSc.