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New Zealand: SMEs have a role to play in normalising the employment of int’l graduates

Employers in New Zealand’s small and medium-sized enterprises who have previously hired an international graduate have a larger role to play in normalising the practice more broadly, according to a joint report by Education New Zealand and insights agency TRA.

ENZ said it is planning to re-define the perceived value of New Zealand-educated international graduates in the eyes of New Zealand employers. Photo: Unsplash

Carney said many SMEs took a suvivalistic approach to hiring

The Employer Perceptions of Hiring International Graduates report found a substantial difference of opinion on international graduates between businesses depending on whether they had previously hired a migrant worker.

“We owe it to them to honour their ambitions and aspirations’

“International graduates tend to be seen as a risk by those employers who haven’t hired them before, yet they are seen as an asset by those employers who have hired them,” the report found.

“This highlights the potential value of employers telling their stories to others in order to normalise the hiring of international graduates, and to influence employer hiring behaviour.”

According to the research, based on interviews and workshops with employers throughout New Zealand, 66% of SMEs were concerned by difficulties around visa processes and delays, and 59% believed communication problems affected international graduates’ job performance.

A further 22% said they believed migrants experienced difficulties adjusting to the New Zealand workplace.

Conversely, however, of employers who had hired an international graduate, 87% said the experience was very good or excellent, while 59% reported their migrant workers remained within their job for 12 months or longer.

“There are clearly opportunities to improve employment outcomes for New Zealand-educated international graduates,” said Grant McPherson, chief executive of ENZ.

“ENZ is planning to re-define the perceived value of New Zealand-educated international graduates in the eyes of New Zealand employers, based on the research findings.”

Released at the Global Internship Conference in Auckland, the report stems from the employment outcome goals of New Zealand’s international education strategy, which look to foster sustainable growth within the country’s industry.

Speaking at the launch, ENZ’s general manager partnerships and Marketing Paul Irwin said that while there were significant marketing and economic benefits to improving graduates outcomes, “reciprocity is key”.

“If we work with young people who make a huge commitment, not only in terms of money but crossing the world, putting their lives and futures in another country, we owe it to them to honour their ambitions and aspirations,” he said.

Aiming to bring education providers and businesses closer together, the report also dispels marketing assumptions around messaging and suggests using stories from SMEs that have hired international graduates over international students.

“Thinking in survival terms means our employers are weighing every decision up”

“Looking at some other countries’ strategies, often a mistake that’s made is that people believe they can message their way out of things, or you tell a heartfelt student story and that will be a success,” Irwin said.

“The reality of what we’re grappling with is a range of perceptions, things that are congruent with deeply held values.”

Among those perceptions, employers said they were worried international graduates were not the right fit for their business and that they lacked work experience. Some business owners also indicated they thought international students were getting “an easier ride” due to family wealth.

According to lead researcher, Carl Carney of RTA, many SME employers also took a survivalist mentality to hiring people.

“Thinking in survival terms means our employers are weighing every decision up as whether something is a risk or an asset,” he said.

“Staff can really make or break a small business.

“If you’ve got just a dozen people sitting around one desk pod, and you’ve got someone doesn’t pull their weight, that turns up with a bad attitude… it becomes a risk to the survival of the business.”

Carney added that the narrative around promoting international graduates to SMEs needed to use the same language of risk and benefit.

In 2017, New Zealand hosted 125,000 international students according to ENZ.

New Zealand is featured in the current edition of The PIE Review

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