05 Jun 2014

Matching expectations of students to the global workforce

EmployabilityAs higher education has become a globalised industry, it should be easier to embrace more creative partnerships with businesses that must compete in a global economy. Finding the right points of intersection for students requires institutions to do a better job of assisting students to interpret and articulate the value of their international experiences to employers. Institutions need to take a much more pro-active and purposeful approach to how they advise students who participate in education abroad.

Economic globalisation and the expansion of institutional policies and practices that impact internationalisation give rise to important questions which challenge faculty and administrators:

  • How should campuses prepare students to succeed in the global economy?
  • How should universities align campus internationalisation priorities and strategies with expectations of the global marketplace?
  • Should preparing global-ready graduates be solely the responsibility of colleges and universities?
  • What role should business and industry play in contributing to the applied knowledge and skill development of students?

New actors drive campus internationalisation

In many instances, business leaders are new actors, who have been increasingly vocal about the direction of international education as they seek to recruit talent to meet the needs of their global workforce. They are more engaged because there is uncertainty about whether academic institutions, acting alone, can adequately prepare students for dynamic changes taking place in the global workforce.

Global workforce development  has become a focus within higher education – especially in North America and Europe – in the past decade and, in particular, an integral component of the global agenda of organisations such as NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the EAIE and the Association of International Education in South Africa.

Companies want to provide students with skills and competencies that reflect their best practices, provide domain knowledge, and also introduce students to those cognitive, social, and personal skills that are a good fit with the company’s human resource needs. However, the evidence is clear (see the chapter, ‘Employer Perspectives on International Education’, in the 2012 SAGE Handbook of International Higher Education) that from the perspective of employers, international experience by itself is not enough. Rather, it’s critical that campuses devote more resources and become more intentional about developing learners’ intercultural competence. While efforts to internationalise campuses have risen dramatically in recent years, there remains a need for more purposeful and structured intercultural experience to provide students with the skills and competencies employers are looking for to build their global workforces, whether those experiences occur in local communities or in other countries.

Education abroad and student career development

I’m a strong believer in the intrinsic value of international educational experience, however, institutions need to place greater emphasis on the extrinsic impact of education abroad – and work, internships or service-learning – on student career development. The added value of an international education experience to a students’ career development is diminished if students cannot clearly articulate the way that such experience has strengthened specific intercultural competencies of interest to prospective employers. Institutions must maximise their resources to enhance students’ intercultural competence at the home campus (especially for the majority of students who do not have the opportunity to go abroad), through the curriculum, co-curriculum, and community service.

Research confirms a strong correlation between international experience and employability. A comprehensive survey of global employers, the QS Global Employer Survey 2011, asked hiring managers and CEOs whether or not they “value” international study experience. The report is unique among recent research because it is based on responses from 10 000 respondents in 116 nations. It found that 60% of respondents said they do “value an international study experience and the attributes that the experience may confer to mobile students”.

Globalisation of the workforce, increased mobility of students, rising demand from employers for global-ready graduates are but a few of the new forces of change impacting the traditional structure of international educational experiences available to students. These forces influence the focus of higher education policy and planning with respect to campus internationalisation and in particular, the development of partnerships with business and industry to widen opportunities for experiential learning and practical work experience.

By Marty Tillman, Global Career Compass, US

  • Michael Smithee

    YES! If I had to reconstruct my career, I would focus on getting the institution/campus to “devote more resources and become more intentional about developing learners’ intercultural competence.” I have always felt that proper debriefing of returned study abroad students, for example, helps to fix the competencies attained and raise issues that need to be worked on. And, I am not talking about self administered surveys. This requires experienced person power, time, and willingness on the part of the institution to recognize the overall benefits of doing so. Perhaps colleges think it is beyond their mission to do so. I think this is short sighted, given the generational changes in our society.