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Gap in Australia’s post-study work promise, says research

Market research has revealed a hiring bias among Australian employers who do not extend the same offers to international graduates as they do their domestic counterparts.

Findings, presented at the IEAA Employment Symposium, are based on roundtable interviews with 103 graduate employers in Australia, 114 in the UK and across South East Asia

"Some employers simply do not consider international students as a talent resource on their doorstep"

As employment goals drive foreign study, and the Australian government leverages its own study-work and post-study work opportunities to compete for globally mobile students, the research calls for more action from education providers, businesses and students.

The research, carried out by Prospect Research and Marketing, has identified a gap between Australia’s desirability as a destination, which equips students for secure employment, and the actual level of opportunities available to international graduates.

Research shows that employers have found international students have poorer communication

“Some employers simply do not consider international students as a talent resource on their doorstep given the underlying perceptions, based around a continually changing environment, that international students involve extra administration, longer-term commitments, subsidies and guarantees,” Prospect CEO Rob Lawrence told The PIE News.

Additionally, Lawrence’s research reports that employers have found international students have poorer communication skills, lack of relevant work experience and difficulties assimilating within the workplace environment.

He added that some employers have arbitrary recruitment and screening criteria “such as minimum IELTS scores and the requirement for Australian citizenship or PR”.

Lawrence presented his research paper, “Employability: Providing the mix to secure the match”, at the recent International Education Association of Australia Employability Symposium (#ieaaemployability).

The findings are based on roundtable interviews with 103 graduate employers in Australia, as well as 114 in the UK and across South East Asia of varying sizes from 21 employees to over 300.

The top four attributes in new hires listed by respondents from all regions aligned with communications: strong written communication skills, strong interpersonal skills, strong verbal communication skills and evidence of teamwork skills.

Speaking with The PIE News, Lawrence noted that “the high levels of higher education participation means that many employers are spoiled for choice” as most respondents said they were applying more rigorous recruitment and screening techniques given the abundance of graduates seeking employment.

He added that other post-study work hotspots- Canada and Germany for example- could face similar issues, however Australia’s challenge is unique in the type of students it attracts.

“International students represent a very powerful talent pool and contribute as effectively as any graduate”

“In Australia we have a very large cohort from Asia, where English is their second language and from where very few students have taken a gap year and/or obtained work experience,” he said. “In Europe the overall standard of English language competence is much higher amongst international students, particularly students from Europe.”

Lawrence added that once international graduates have adapted to the workplace environment “they represent a very powerful talent pool and contribute as effectively as any graduate”.

To bridge the gap, he said it is critical that employers better understand the post-study work rights of students and that educators work to identify and improve their competency weaknesses earlier in the student life cycle.

“International students need to accrue a much broader mix of skills, competencies and capabilities and not just rely upon academic and technical qualifications,” he explained.

To address the issue, IEAA used the event to release draft best practice guides for employers, students, and education providers to invite comment from the sector.

Among the best practices for educators, the guide suggests calling on alumni networks to provide opportunities to students and embedding internship requirements into each course to ensure work integrated learning.

An IEAA spokesperson said the final format of the good practice guides is yet to be decided, but one possible option mooted at the symposium is a dynamic employability website aimed at international students, education providers and employers/industry.

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