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2019 Global Internship Conference: “The future is the Pacific”

Nations within the Pacific region are playing a much larger role in geopolitics, climate change, and economic development, and larger countries should be better engaging with its people, delegates have been reminded at the 2019 Global Internship Conference in Auckland.

The Pacific has a large role to play in geopolitics and climate change. Photo: The PIEThe Pacific has a large role to play in geopolitics and climate change. Photo: The PIE

"If they can't see anybody like themselves, it speaks volumes to them"

Themed Integrating Employability Outcomes through Global Internships, 2019 was the first tie the conference was held in Australasia and speakers used the opportunity to encourage further collaboration within the wider Pacific region.

“The future is the Pacific”

“[The region] is worth contemplating, because I’ve taught in places like Oxford and Michigan, where people don’t actually think very much about the Pacific,” said Damon Salesa, pro-vice chancellor Pacific at the University of Auckland.

“We face a Pacific that looks a lot different to the rest of the world, and the rest of the world seems not to have noticed it very much, certainly not as much as people like me think it should.”

Speaking at the opening plenary, Salesa said that Pacific nations were at the frontline of climate change and felt the “unkindness that the ocean feels first”, adding that as a consequence, the region had developed global experts in the field.

Economic prosperity was also a key feature of the Pacific, he added, noting that both China and the US have Pacific Ocean coastlines and that while small, representing around 1% of the world’s population, nations in the region had a substantial role to play as geopolitical tensions rise.

“The future is not the Atlantic, if indeed it ever was. The future is the Pacific,” he said.

Focussed broadly on internships, the conference has taken an increasingly international focus recently, the University of Auckland’s director international Brett Berquist said, with international students wanting more access to additional global and employment experiences.

“A growing sub-theme to the conference for many years has been looking at the international employability of our international students,” he said.

“Many of our campuses have more and more international students coming to study with us. How are we serving their needs [and] where do internships fit within that?”

“If your business isn’t catering to the new New Zealand, then someone else’s sure as heck will be”

Education New Zealand also used the conference to launch its latest joint report with insights agency TRA on employers’ perspectives of international graduates, which Berquist said was a significant step forward in addressing graduate employability concerns.

“We’re used to putting ourselves in the shoes of our students or our institutions, all of us happy to push for policy changes or support systems,” he told delegates.

“But we don’t often put ourselves in the shoes of a small business owner who is trying to make his or her business move forward.”

The report found employers had a larger role to play in communicating the benefits of hiring international graduates and normalising the practice for those who had not previously done so.

At the employers’ forum, which complemented the report’s launch and provided an opportunity for engagement with education providers, several of the speakers used the platform to advocate for creating a more diverse workforce.

“If your business isn’t catering to the new New Zealand, then someone else’s sure as heck will be,” said Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development head of international Henry Matthews.

Anne Fitisemanu, chief executive of TupuToa, an internships provider catering to Maori and Pacifica students, added that employers also needed to be mindful of ensuring they were engaging with people from different backgrounds if they wanted to meet their aspirations for a diverse workforce.

“At the front line, people representative of the people they’re trying to hire or the community they’re trying to hire from,” she said.

“Young people from a range of experiences, they come into these organisations, and if they can’t see anybody like themselves, it speaks volumes to them.”

The 2020 Global Internship Conference will return to North American and will be held in Vancouver.

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