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Report paints gloomy job prospects for international students

Darren Boon

Wed Nov 05 2014


A RECENT study revealed intense competition in the job market, a lack of permanent residency as well as “soft skills” impede international students’ ability to find a job post-graduation in Australia. Darren Boon reports. 


International students face difficulty in securing a job in Australia despite reported skill shortages in accounting, engineering, and nursing, a recently published study has revealed.

The Deakin University and University of Technology Sydney report identified a competitive job market, a lack of permanent residency (PR) status and other soft skills as barriers to international students landing employment in Australia.

However, the report has said international students may have unrealistic expectations about post-study employment.

A study of 107 international graduates has revealed many prefer to remain permanently in Australia after graduation. While some hope to gain experience in Australia to boost their professional experience before returning to their home countries, other international students see their studies in Australia as part of a ‘broader plan to migrate to a country offering a higher standard of living and better career prospects’.

A Chinese nursing student was quoted saying, “I want to get PR here, that’s what I want, because I want to change my life.”

But international students will need to be prepared to face a competitive job market.

This includes accounting, which is a popular course for international students. According to the report, “graduate employment outcomes for accountants have fallen over the past five years”. Advertised positions for accountants have fallen since 2008 while overall employment of accountants increased just 1.3 percent over five years to May 2014.

Graduate nurses also suffered, according to the report, however a demand for nurses with specialised skills outside of metropolitan centres still exists.

Graduate engineers may find it difficult to enter the industry as well, although there are signs of shortages of mid-level engineers with five to ten years of experience.

Related story: The PR Problem: Graduate job prospects for international students in Australia

The lack of a permanent residency is also a barrier to gaining employment.

“According to international graduates in this study, without permanent residency status, it is very difficult to secure employment. This view is consistent with interviews with Australian employers in the fields of accounting, engineering and nursing,” the report stated.

“Unless facing an urgent skill shortage, employers would prefer to hire a local graduate rather than go through what many described as the lengthy, costly and often frustrating sponsorship process. Importantly, many employers have a blanket rule that precludes international graduates from applying unless they have permanent residency status,” the report stated.

A number of the 34 employers who were studied cited the belief “an international graduate represented a greater risk of flight than a local graduate”, leading employers to feel unwilling to invest in the sponsorship process.

And while permanent residency may be seen as increasing international graduates’ opportunities of gaining employment,“work experience, soft skills, communication competency” are equally important.

For example, a Chinese accounting graduate has yet to obtain a job in his field ten months after obtaining his PR.

The report quoted him as saying, “I just realised that having permanent residency is only the start of the life living here as other local people. Yeah, I just arrived at the starting line. Before that I thought with my PR, I got everything but it’s wrong. I got my PR but I am only at the start. I just entered the door.”

Related story: International students: Why your differences are your strengths

The report also highlighted various roadblocks international students face in securing employment, which included “local networks, issues surrounding communication skills and cultural differences, and limited knowledge of, and exposure to, the local labour market”.

Employers polled said they were looking for “work ready” graduates – whereby graduates had prior exposure to the industry and knowledge of how the workplace operates through their course studies, as well as employees that ‘best fit’ or are compatible to the organisation’s values.

Employers also look for graduates who are able to demonstrate a range of “soft skills” through extracurricular activities such as leadership. Other valuable skills include interpersonal skills and communication skills – having an excellent command of English and being able to “communicate in a range of settings”.

The report also hinted at the possibility of racism affecting international graduates’ ability to get jobs.

According to the report, international students, particularly in accountancy, placed too much importance in prestigious accounting firms such the ‘Big Four’. Already difficult to get in to, the report stated only five international students make it to the graduate programmes the Big Four firms offer. In contrast, a smaller accounting firm might be willing to hire and sponsor an international student.

The report also suggested universities develop the employability skills of international students in the area of soft skills.

It also suggests international students have a part to play by proactively developing their key skills, which could involve more interaction with the local community.