Andrew Barkla wants to lead global student placement behemoth, IDP, into a new era, embedding employers into the infrastructure so they can better target and reach international students who might eventually become employees. He explained his joined-up thinking to The PIE.
The PIE: How long have you been in your role at IDP?
"We aspire to create the leading international platform for collaboration and connectivity with that international student on their journey"
AB: A short life time, 14 months, but enjoying it.
The PIE: What attracted you to the role?
AB: I spent 25 years in the technology industry which is an exciting, game changing industry but I could see how technology could provide a significant benefit to ultimately to the international student and their journey. And of course we all know it is something you can connect with quite emotionally, and that excited me.
The PIE: So tell me about these plans to change the industry with technology?
AB: For us, certainly the most important thing is that we continue to do what we are doing well and as you may be aware we have almost 650 counsellors in 90 offices in 38 countries around the world who are spending their days talking to parents and prospective international students.
So to be quite frank, the first priority is firstly to recognise that and ensure that the company’s culture shifts to be being more externally focused so we can actually help those interactions that are already taking place in many countries around the world. But I think beyond that of course there is an aspirational desire, and I think IDP is in a unique position because of that significant global network to aspire to creating what I see as the being the leading international platform for collaboration and connectivity with that international student on their journey through study and ultimately potentially supporting their career aspirations as well.
“A major employer in the Middle East said, ‘We are really looking for ways to reach out and grab talent earlier in the process, can you help us, IDP?'”
The PIE: How would that work, in terms of trying to embed finding a job into the international student journey?
AB: I think the first thing you have to do is really take a big step back and see the journey from end to end and walk that journey in your customers shoes, which for us is the international student, to walk on that journey in our counsellors shoes, to look at how they can interact and add value to that journey.
The PIE: Sounds very interesting.
AB: We have done quite a bit of work within our organisation and with some help from some external parties to map the journey out, so we have got a good idea of what the international student’s journey looks like and now it is a matter of understanding where our interaction points are today and thinking about what pain points and what moments of joy we are going to bring to that international student along that journey.
It is about providing them with arrival services, social integration, insurance, financial services and part-time work when they arrive in their destination country of study, and then it is assisting them to be prepared for the career that they are seeking beyond study and I think technology is going to play a big part in pulling together those pieces and making them relevant to the student at the right time based on their choices as they go through that journey.
The PIE: And have you been road testing the idea with employers and if so what is the appetite?
AB: I see a huge appetite with employers, in fact I was just talking to our regional director for the Middle East and we have had a major global employer there come to us and say ‘We are really looking for ways to reach out and grab talent earlier in the process, we need 200-300 graduates every year, can you help us, IDP?’
“We will enable counsellors to help the parents and the students fundamentally make some career decisions earlier”
I see that as a massive opportunity, if we can help an international student at the beginning of their journey, first understand their career options and one of the things we are doing with our counsellors is teaching or training them to also provide career guidance and distributing some tools to enable them to help the parents and the students fundamentally make some career decisions earlier.
The PIE: It is logical to consider about study and career planning at the same time.
AB: The real opportunity is to connect an international student, obviously after they have done some thinking about their career, which they are normally doing as part of their study, but to provide them with some guidance and give them some visibility to employers who are looking ultimately to attract the best talent.
The PIE: It seems an obvious part of the jigsaw, but no one has really done it before at scale, why do you think that is?
AB: Because I don’t think it is easy, it is not simple and it is complicated but from my experience – and I have worked in the corporate world all my life, in the technology sector as I said – we would often work very closely with universities in the technology sector where we would embed the learning that we required as a technology company into the curriculum, so that has been happening.
The PIE: It has been coming up in conversation a lot here [at AIEC], the unique attributes of an international student, what do you think employers see as a USP in an international student as opposed to a normal student?
AB: I think there are a couple of things and the first one may be the most obvious but sometimes the most obvious isn’t recognised: and that is the fact that in most cases these international students return to their country of origin and as you would know, a lot of the major international student source markets are major global markets for employers.
“Global multinationals in source countries see international students as great candidates for employment”
They have worked in a foreign country and therefore have had to integrate into another complex society, so that is giving the international student a lot of unique skills, and today we see very strong employment opportunities with those global multinationals in those source countries, who I believe see these international students as great candidates for employment.
The PIE: And tell me about the IDP listing on the stock market, are your big plans because of that change in company structure?
AB: I think the listing on the ASX was a significant milestone for IDP, it was on the back of a very strong performance for a number of years and yes, one of the desires for the company is to gain access to capital markets more easily.
You will be aware that we have had a strong performance to date and a good run in our first year as an ASX listed company but really the strategy is aligned to the market opportunity, it is aligned to the company strengths that we have built over a 47 year history.
I am here really to redefine the next chapter of IDP, the listing is a small component of that, the bigger opportunity is to help the industry transform and I think building the leading global platform for a connected community to assist international students on their journey through study to employment, that aspiration is really the priority and that is what the next part of our journey is all about.
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