CEO Report: International Students – Job Opportunities and Challenges in the current market

Gradability & Performance Education’s CEO, David Phua pens his views on the current international student market.

 Recently the ABC published an article about the plight international students face trying to secure employment post-graduation:

The article references the perceptions held by both graduates and employers around the employability of international graduates, what options are available to them and how many feel left behind. 

It’s a narrative I’ve heard many times over the last 20 years, starting with the story I told myself when I graduated as an international student: “Employers won’t employ me on a temporary visa” – however I stress this couldn’t be further from the truth.

I’m exploring the topic more as unfortunately at times media is quick to sensationalise and not balance the other side, the often-positive version, of the story. 

Over the past decade and a half, Gradability, largely through our Performance Education brand, has helped over 30,000 international graduates start their professional careers in Australia, working with over 9,000 employers across the country via placed internships.  

Our students’ interaction with these employers starts via the professional internship, and a third of them will be employed as a direct result, which should put to bed any negative storylines.

In my experience, employers’ welcome international students. While some don’t completely understand the rules around work visas and post-study work visas only lasting two years, this shouldn’t be seen as a deal breaker particularly in today’s graduate-skewed employment market.  

In reference to Monash University’s Dr Thanh Pham’s views on how employers discriminated against international students based on what she called a ‘fit in’ culture – I disagree and find this narrative self-destructive.

The employers we work with understand cultural differences between someone from China, India or Kenya versus someone who grew up in Sydney or Melbourne but recognise that diversity is crucial in a country like Australia, spanning generational through to multicultural. From an encompassing staff culture to providing new lenses on idea generation to finding new ways of working – international students have so much to give – and will often repay the opportunity ten-fold. 

I can’t profess that every business’ views on international students and diversity are as progressive as the host companies we work with, but stress there are an abundance of them out there. 

That said, we know there are some elements of ‘fitting in’ which are essential to adapt to Australian business culture – this could include workplace etiquette, how to manage ‘water-cooler conversations’ or providing input in meetings. This just highlights the need for more cultural training for international graduates transitioning to the workforce across the wider education system in Australia – from universities through to graduate training providers, like Performance Education.

We believe universities have a huge role to play, not just in educating international students from a technical standpoint, but in how they prepare students for the workforce noting it should be seen as a joint-effort and journey. 

Gradability has been working with universities for over 10 years to help prepare graduates for the workforce. Whether via workshops and programs to help international students (and local students for that matter!) to understand the Australian business culture, embed internships into curriculum to provide students with hands-on experience, and provide introductions to employers, we know we play an important role.

Additionally, at Performance Education, our Professional Year program has subjects dedicated to Australian workplace culture to help with this transition, and the program includes a 12-week internship, which provides a foot in the door at a workplace.

Rounding out, I acknowledge there are absolutely challenges for international students in the Australian market, but it’s not all doom and gloom as reported. As the Australian business sector trends upwards post COVID, it continues to be a graduate market and in turn there are strong needs for international students. Equally remember there are programs to support students in their transition to the workforce, to make them more employable.

And of course, we are always here to help!

– David Phua

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