Students Do Not Connect Study Abroad Experience to Employability & Employers Expect Higher Education Institutions to Help Make the Connection

Two  recent surveys help explain the quandry employers have found themselves in for several years when it comes to the mismatch between their need for talent and the recent graduates they interview, who may have international experience on their resumes, but who cannot make a solid connection between being abroad and the competencies which the employer values in a new hire.  This is precisely what I’ve been saying and writing about in recent years.  And it is a dis-connect which impacts not only the U.S. workforce, but resonates around the world for employers based both in the North and South.  On the other hand, it appears that not all employers – or at least their HR managers- place the same weight on whether or not study abroad is valued as an experience to develop necessary intercultural skills [a finding that contradicts the fact that overwhelming majorities of employers state this is a skill in high demand among their workers].

A Chronicle of Higher Education survey in conjunction with American Public Media’s Marketplace,, finds that 50% of employers (over 700 out of a sample of 50,000 responded in the U.S.) in their survey “…had trouble finding recent graduates qualified to fill positions at their company or organization. Nearly a third gave colleges just fair to poor marks for producing successful employees. And they dinged bachelor’s-degree holders for lacking basic workplace proficiencies, like adaptability, communication skills, and the ability to solve complex problems.”

And there is this survey conducted by IPSOS in cooperation with the British Council and Booz Allen Hamilton.  IPSOS surveyed HR managers in nine nations for the report, Culture at Work: The value of intercultural skills in the workplace,  

As summarized on an IPSOS blog:

Employers feel that candidates require the skills necessary to navigate this multicultural environment – “intercultural skills” – and that these skills are currently lacking in the current labor market. Employers require employees with intercultural skills to keep teams running efficiently, build trust with clients, and develop relationships with new clients. The risks of having employees who do not possess strong intercultural skills are miscommunication and conflicts within teams, as well as loss of clients and damage to the company’s global reputation.  Despite this finding, less than 10% of U.S. HR managers believe study abroad “should be encouraged to improve intercultural skills [perhaps few of these staff ever studied abroad themselves!].

What these reports tell me is that academic institutions that support international education and who, in fact, have articulated internationalization policies, need to do more to bridge the gap between student needs and employer expectations in the design and structure of their study abroad programs.  Study abroad and career service advisors, in particular, need to assist students to see the connection between their time abroad and the value that employers place on skills and competencies they develop while away from the U.S.  This bridge needs to be constructed with the needs of employers in mind and with the support of campus faculty and policy-makers.


  1. Perhaps “intercultural skill” need to be defined. If it is a skill that is lacking, how does one know one is lacking it if there is no general and acceptable definition? In a professional environment, being politically correct and avoiding offensive behavior is a constant struggle for some people. Those who are unable to produce intercultural skills are often counseled and receive disciplinary action. Their colleagues shake their heads unwilling to believe the offensive employee’s behavior and stupidity. It is for those ignorant coworkers that a definition needs to exist. Is it purely common sense? If so, we all know many who are lacking in common sense skills.

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