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Intercultural competence, micro-credentials, reflection critical in career readiness

Both universities and employers need to set clear expectations up front about internships to mitigate potential misunderstandings

Speakers focused on best practices for college and career readiness and specific employability skills honed through international internships.

“The nature of evolving technology in places of employment really affects the future of each of our programs, which feeds into the preparation we do with high school students, with our current students, and with anyone moving towards a clinical internship or work-based learning experience- whether that’s with a with an international company or [locally],” Ethan Heicher, chancellor Ivy Tech Kokomo Community College shared with the audience during a plenary session on employability.

As such, third-party skills verification is required in certain internships, such as in healthcare and mechanics, to ensure students have appropriate skills and competencies in that field before they engage in the work.

However, some employers indicated while students may be proficient in the technical skills required for employment, many in the “pandemic generation” of students are lacking in the “soft skills” that are equally necessary in the workplace such as communication, working in teams and business etiquette.

“It is a need and it’s part of our onboarding experience with our interns, but it would be really great if colleges and universities would prep them a little bit more for a professional workplace, workplace etiquette and relationships with their peers,” said Amberly Lopez, the director of global student programs at Elanco.

In considering what employers can do to improve their internal readiness to receive international interns, panellists stressed the need for ongoing training on intercultural competence and communication for employees to better address “unconscious biases”.

Suggestions included mentorship programs as well as hiring intercultural training coordinators to work with staff to prepare them to engage with new partners and to also work with students, clients and community members to raise awareness about cultural norms.

Devina Fernandez, workforce development specialist at Endress+Hauser expressed that some challenges during internships regarding overall student experience have been assuaged by strong mentorship programs.

Fernandez asserted that both universities and employers need to set clear expectations up front about internships to mitigate potential misunderstandings.

“When you take a student to a different culture, they bring their local club wisdoms to that country, but they also see best practices and they bring it back home,” Don Wettrick, CEO of the STARTedUP Foundation agreed. “So getting students to be a conduit benefits both sides.”

“It’s critical for international interns to be able to articulate the outcomes of their work experiences”

Christine Everett, director of the Institute for International Business highlighted the importance of post-internship reflection. “It’s critical for international interns to be able to articulate the outcomes of their work experiences, so that when discussing their experiences abroad, they are deeply considering their journey beyond the sightseeing and touristic components and through a skills-based lens.”

Everett also discussed the impact of collaborative online learning, particularly during the pandemic. “It’s impactful, and so much less expensive. This collaboration now with the technology platforms gives students the chance to work across cultures. We talk a lot about underrepresented minorities or underserved communities that don’t have the funds to be able to study abroad and now we’re able to help students stretch and grow in a transformational way through COIL.”

Heicher discussed the increasing importance of micro-credentials, especially given that half of the students at Ivy Tech enter the workforce upon finishing their technical education program.

“Leaving with something that is transferable, something that is recognisable, a third-party verification of competency, is something many employers very much value,” he said.

“Having someone from outside say you’re competent in this field and that you’ve achieved these objectives is really important. So those certifications have become a standard by which employers judge graduates.”

Conference president and co-founder, Matt Byrnes told The PIE, “[We’ve] created a collegial environment where university and college advisors, employers, providers, government officials, and students can exchange ideas, best practices, and innovative solutions for the field of international internships.”

The next International Internship Conference has been scheduled for June 2024 at University College Dublin in Ireland.

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