Getting personal – formulating employment success for international students

International students contribute more than $32.2 billion to the Australian economy every year. The majority of these students are self-funded who use education as an investment in their future. However, these students are increasingly concerned about low employment outcomes, particularly in full-time work.

The reputation of Australian universities could be at risk. Our research points to the need for universities to change their formula of how they support international students.

Since the 1990s, Australia has made various efforts to support and enhance international students’ employment outcomes. For instance, the federal government launched the Employer Nomination Scheme and the National Strategy for International Education Policy, which call for the involvement of industries in sponsoring or offering internships so that international students could have a better chance to apply for permanent residency and enhance local working experiences.

Universities have also actively embedded employability skills in teaching and learning programs. This aims to better facilitate international students with generic and work-readiness skills. In a nutshell, the current initiatives are viewing employment success via the formula below:

Recent trends in international education and the global labour market are revealing flaws in the current employment formula of international students.

The first trend is that the concept of study-then-stay commonly applied by international students is shifting. An increasing number are choosing Australia for higher education, but not necessarily for their career development. In fact, 50 per cent of international graduates have left Australia within five years of obtaining their permanent residency. When they leave Australia, they’ve been found to struggle to apply the knowledge and skills obtained in the host country because other labour markets (ie, home country and third country) often have different expectations and requirements.

This trend is proving that it’s becoming inappropriate for Australian universities to assume that international students complete Australian education for the purpose of finding employment in the host country.

The second trend is the tough competition for jobs among local and international graduates in Australia. With almost 30 per cent of graduates struggling for immediate employment upon university completion, local graduates are competing with internationals for jobs in all sectors, and the latter win the employment battle in most cases.

This isn’t a surprise, because local graduates tend to have better generic skills, richer knowledge about the local market, and more relevant hands-on experiences. Therefore, to win this tough employment battle, international students cannot simply depend on what’s provided in university programs, but need to develop distinct qualities and resources to make them stand apart from their local counterparts.

Our recent study at Monash has found that to better support employment of international graduates, the formula for their employment should be:

The study disclosed that knowledge and skills obtained in study programs aren’t sufficient for international graduates to win the employment competition. They therefore need to use their distinct personal qualities as extra credit, and make use of their own resources to improve their competitiveness.

The study evidenced employment success of those graduates who knew how to use their personal qualities to develop relationships with “significant others” who then connected them with potential employers – a strategy to compensate their limited social network.

The study stressed that the negotiation of international graduates’ employability should be seen as a long journey to build a range of resources, and not just articulate a set of employability skills.

Similarly, some successful cases made use of social networks within their co- and similar ethnic communities to secure temporary employment. From here, they used it as a tool to enrich their understanding of the local labour market and expand networks with local employers before competing for mainstream positions.

The study also found the need for the development of similar resources for career success of international graduates who returned to their home countries.

The study stressed that the negotiation of international graduates’ employability should be seen as a long journey to build a range of resources, and not just articulate a set of employability skills.

International students and Australian universities, therefore, need to have better dialogues about career pathways of international students, then support them to build these resources. This change also requires teaching and learning programs of Australian universities to be designed for the purpose of preparing international students for employment in various labour markets, not only in Australia.

Universities are currently taking the “solo-responsibility approach” that sees study programs as sufficient for facilitating international students’ preparation for employment – an inadequate approach, but it empowers the image of universities.

It’s time for Australian universities to take a “shared-responsibility approach” in which international students are invited to take responsibility for exploring diverse possible employment paths. This might disempower the current reputation of universities, but is far more realistic in preparing international students for long-term employment.

Dr Thanh Pham and Associate Professor Chris Thompson will be keynote speakers at a conference, Alumni Knowledge and Experience: Reflecting on Real-World Transition Practice, at Monash's Clayton campus on 9 and 10 August. More information: monash.edu/alumniconference

This article was first published on Monash Lens. Read the original article