IEAA International Employability Symposium

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One of the great challenges I’ve faced in my new job as a career consultant in Melbourne is working with international students. While many of them have a lot to do to improve their employability skills, not to mention their resumes, they seem to be at a real disadvantage when it comes to finding and securing opportunities. At the Big Meet job fair, I was quite shocked to numerous employers had signs on their booths stating: “Australian Citizens and Permanent Residents Only”, despite the fact that international students have the legal right to work in Australia and a lot to offer employers. I struggled to think of what I could do to help my international students in the face of these barriers.

For this reason I joined a couple of hundred of fellow education professionals at the International Education Association of Australia’s International Employability Symposium, here in Melbourne. The goal of the symposium was to look at the barriers international students face when seeking employment in Australia, such as a lack of employability skills and experience; a shortage of opportunities; and general reluctance to employ international graduates.

At the heart of the symposium were drafts of three “good practice guides” – one for students, one for employers, and one for institutions – aimed at improving employability outcomes for international students. The attendees were asked for their feedback, much of which pointed out that booklets would be less effective than more dynamic digital or social media resources.

A highlight of the symposium was hearing from Rob Lawrence, CEO of Prospect Research and expert in international education market research, on the miss-alignment between what employers are looking for and what international students have to offer. Part of this is a lack of employability skills on the part of the students’, but it also involves a lack of awareness of the value of international students on the part of the employers. The findings offered some concrete areas where international students need to improve to be competitive: communication and problem solving, workplace experience, and fitting into the Australian workplace culture.

It was nice to be involved in this discussion and I found myself feeling motivated that I have something I can contribute to this mission. But I couldn’t help but feel that two important stakeholders were missing from the conversation: the employers and the top rungs of university leadership. The symposium participants were all very motivated and had immense expertise that they could bring to bear on the problem, if only they had the resources to do so.

Aside from the symposium proceedings, I also enjoyed my first experience of live-tweeting an event, which to my surprise and slight embarrassment saw my Twitter avatar broadcast on the projector for half the day. As a result of that I got to meet some people working on really interesting projects aligned with my interests, such as Meld Magazine for international students, Refraction Media, which publishes really nice careers guides for STEM fields, and Ready Grad, which produces online and blended career development resources.




Published by

Michael Healy

Career development consultant, educator and instructional designer at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.

2 thoughts on “IEAA International Employability Symposium”

  1. Hi Michael,

    Thanks so much for your article. I really appreciate what you are doing to help international students, which include our Vietnamese students to have more chance to get a job in Australia.

    I want to share my personal point of view and my story after 6 months studying and living in Melbourne last year. My point of view is applied for Vietnamese students and it may be true for other countries. Firstly, I think English is one of biggest problem that lead to we can not get a good job in local company. Many of us are only good at academic english, which is used in school and we are weak at normal daily english conversation.

    Secondly, another factor I think that is the ‘crowd’s effect’. As the time when I first came to Melbourne, I talked with my friends there, many of them tell me that I should find a Vietnamese restaurant or Chinese restaurant to find a job, because it is more likely to be accepted. It is true, but it does not mean you can not apply for a local company. I think many international students do not know or understand clearly the rule of working in Australia, especially for local students. The rule may include working hour, tax, etc. I think at first, we should educate students about that.

    Above is some of my personal view as a student. Hope you understand.

    Have a nice day,


    1. Thanks for your comment Anh. I agree that a big part of it is the students’ responsibility to avoid the temptation to stick with their own community, which will limit their options and have a negative effect on the development of their English language and cultural understanding. International students need to understand that just being in another country doesn’t magically transform them into highly employable people. They have to take some action to achieve that.

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