The report published by NAFSA: Association of International Educators and US-based economic modelling firm Emsi analysed millions of job postings and professional profiles in the US in order to determine the connection between studying overseas and employer-desired skills.
“Skills acquired during international study go beyond academic coursework and the experience of a different culture”
The ‘Developing a Globally Competitive Workforce Through Study Abroad: The Value of Study Abroad Skills in the US Job Market’ report found that more than 31 million job openings in 2019 required soft and global skills that a student acquires while studying abroad.
Key skills include communication, leadership, problem solving, and time management, and are “necessary in many industries and occupations”, researchers suggested.
However, “far too few students” participate in international study programs, they reminded, adding that 90% of college graduates are entering the US workforce missing “global skills, knowledge, and experiences necessary to position them for success in the global economy”.
Among the recommendations outlined in the report, high quality study abroad programs should be promoted to “enhance students’ future employability, in addition to the academic and personal value gained from the experience”.
Students ought to be guided to recognise specific soft and global skills study abroad experiences offer, and encouraged to highlight these when applying for work.
Course developers should also ensure programs align with shifting employer demands and international and cross-cultural topics are integrated into curricula to “better prepare all students to enter a diverse, globally aware working environment”.
Additionally, the report urges advocacy for the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act, which would allow “US colleges and universities to increase the number and diversity of students who complete a study abroad experience prior to graduation and enhance their future employability”.
The paper also revealed that STEM students were the biggest cohort of undergraduate students to participate in international study programs in 2017/18, representing 26% of participants. Of the 341,751 study abroad participants that year, 87,451 were STEM students.
“Few job posting specifically require or request candidates to have study abroad experience,” the report noted.
However Emsi’s database of job postings found that employers associate key global skills – such as cultural awareness, foreign language, diversity and culturally sensitive – acquired and developed through international study with teaching, mentorship, management, leadership and business operations.
Employees with soft skills showing leadership, time management and teamwork are more likely to be employed as presidents, CEOs, business administrators and managers when compared to all US profiles, it added.
“Study abroad alumni are working at the top companies in the US, including Amazon, Microsoft, Ernst & Young and Intel, in greater numbers than those without study abroad experience,” the report stated.
Skills acquired during international study “go beyond academic coursework and the experience of a different culture”, it added. “The acquired skills are also important for career success.”
In 2017/18, some 342,000 students studied abroad for credit, with New York University, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin sending the most students overseas, largely as a result of the size of the institutions.
Centenary College of Louisiana, State University of New York Maritime College and Elon University have the highest percentage of their undergraduates participating in overseas study, according to three Carnegie classification, the report continued.
“More than 100% of the undergraduates at each of the three institutions participate in study abroad, an indication that many students at these institutions are studying abroad on multiple occasions throughout their undergraduate educations,” it read.
“At these institutions, study abroad is a means to attract new students and can be a major component in their on-campus student culture.”
Short term programs have also become more popular, it added, with one in five participants studying abroad for eight weeks or less.
Reasons include the need for students to fit an international experience into an increasingly busy academic career, an increase in non-traditional student abroad participants who work or have families, and potential financial constraints of students and their families, the report contended.