Level 6, 11 – 31 York Street
Sydney NSW 2000 Australia
There’s no getting away from the fact that the past 3 years have been challenging for the international higher education sector. We had most of the country in lockdown for months at a time and during that whole time the border was closed, meaning we had virtually no new international students entering higher education in Australia.
For a closer look at the current state of the tertiary education sector, check out our final episode of season 1 of The Employability Podcast.
As we are nearing the end of 2022, here is our wish list for next year to boost graduate employability in 2023 and beyond.
Our first wish is to see a return of more Chinese students to Australia. China is our biggest trading partner and there are clearly challenges with the relationship at a government level but China has traditionally been our largest source country for international students and still accounts for about 25% of the international student cohort. Yet a third of our Chinese students aren’t in Australia. Let’s get them back in, which will be beneficial both from an economic standpoint but also because they do enrich and enhance the overall offering.
After a couple of pretty significant faux pas by the previous government in relation to international students in Australia at the start of the pandemic, the government did make one welcome change, which was to allow international students to have unrestricted work rights. This was a welcome reprieve for students and also significantly supported a struggling economy.
Our second wish is to bring forward the July 2023 date that will see this change being reverted back to what it used to be (working 40 hours per fortnight), because the current unrestricted work rights rule is just too easy to exploit and it also exposes our students to the risk of exploitation at work.
What I would like to see changed though, is in the way Work Integrated Learning, or WIL, is viewed. WIL programs should not have to count towards the 40 hours a fortnight if they are part of a course or program.
For the most part, WIL, or internships programs are unpaid roles and there are role requirements that must be met by both the intern and the host employer. They should also be within the individual’s field of study – and relevant to it. Partly because of the unpaid nature of it, but largely because it is linked to a course of study that ultimately enhances the student’s prospects, it should be exempt from the work restrictions rule. There are caveats, of course.
Checks and balances that need to be in place to protect the integrity of the program as well as the students undertaking them: It should be part of an accredited course, should be no longer than 3 months and has to be directly related to their field of study.
Another change I’d be pushing for is for the system and pathways for skilled permanent migration to be opened up more fully again.
Skilled migration over the past few years has stalled as the reality of COVID-19 hit and while there has been some skilled migration, it has predominantly been in the healthcare sector or been directed towards regional Australia.
While the regions do need skilled migrants, this shouldn’t be an either or scenario. Nor should skilled migration be as restricted as it has been over the past 36 months.
What’s the link to employability?
Talk to any number of businesses in Australia and they’ll tell you that they face a real challenge in sourcing graduate talent. This is especially pronounced in the accounting and tech sectors Gradability largely operates in, but I’ve spoken to many business owners around the country who are struggling to source and afford graduate talent.
Meanwhile we have graduate accountants and IT professionals switching to trades courses because those are the ones that currently lead to a migration outcome.
What I’d like to see is the migration pathway opening up to skilled graduates and actually being used, not just having a quota that doesn’t all get used. And the differentiation I’m making is that it is graduate talent, not just highly experienced talent, as seems to be the case in some sectors.
Employers need access to graduate talent and there’s a pool we aren’t fully accessing at the moment.
More education for employers around the benefits of employing international student graduates and how they far outweigh the perceived risks.
I was at 2 separate conferences in the past 3 months where employer groups were asked about whether they’d consider employing internationals and I was both shocked and dismayed at the responses. One large employer group (at an international education conference, no less) said “absolutely not, because they will just take your knowledge and leave”.
The 1980s called. They want their bigotry back.
In today’s market, I think most employers would be ok with it if a graduate stayed with them for 12-18 months. That would be par. Our experience shows that international graduates are incredibly loyal because they struggle so hard to get that first opportunity and want to repay their employers’ faith. We find our graduates stay with us over 2 years on average and are massive contributors.
With the way the post graduate visa works at the moment, a person can live and work in Australia for between 3 to 5 years upon completion of their course. That’s not insignificant, and it means that an employer can put in place programs to appropriately onboard and induct graduate talent, while also putting effort in to further develop them over that period. Yes, there will be natural attrition, but you get that in any case. And with employer sponsorship now back on the cards, with the potential for conversion to permanent residency, it’s something that actually helps attract and retain talent.
What we’re doing at Gradability is to continue to advocate for and promote international talent to employers and what I’d like to see is more information being made in a ready (and easy) to digest format for employers so they don’t have to scroll through complicated websites and consult multiple sources to realise they can tap into this market.
To round things off, I would also like to see more education providers recognise that they don’t have to do it all alone when it comes to offering employability solutions to their students, domestic or international.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of providers do this really well. But we’re here to help too. And we have reach and scale. Employability services and experiences offered to students need to extend beyond short workshops or brief interactions with employers. We need to build appropriately scaffolded employability programs throughout the life cycle of the student. This should be for both international and domestic students, recognising that in some cases, more needs to be done to support international students. This isn’t easy but it is something we have to do.
So there you go, that’s my wish list for next year. It’s not a massive list but there are some pretty critical matters there that I think could make a big difference for the sector.
Let’s make 2023 the year Australia gets back to the top of the tree in terms of international student offerings and employability.
For more progressive information around graduate employability and how Australian businesses can tap into the graduate recruitment market, stay connected with Gradability on LinkedIn and Facebook, and subscribe to our free podcast on your favourite podcast channel.
Control the Controllables,
CEO, Gradability & Performance Education