On the Importance of Linking International Experience to Employability-New Essays/New Ideas

Career Integration: Reviewing the Impact of Experience Abroad on Employment (No.2), has just been published by the University of Minnesota Learning Abroad Center & CAPA. See this volume – and the first one (2014) – at Publications || || Learning Abroad Center. 

The two volumes are outcomes of conferences held in 2014 and 2016 bringing together several hundred senior international officers, employers, recruiters, faculty, and education abroad and career service staff.  These are unique dialogues focused on the changing narrative around the value-added of international experience. This more inclusive framework includes the impact of such experience on student employability (not necessarily on “employment,” which is somewhat mis-leading in the title of both volumes).  The two sections include essays -from both American (mine is: “How Employability Strengthens the Value Proposition of Study Abroad”) and international authors- about campus best programmatic practices and theory. There is a useful bibliography included in this volume.

All authors come to the same conclusion:  an education abroad experience, well designed to maximize critical learning outcomes, which focuses on the need for students to strengthen essential qualitative and quantitative skill sets, provides an unparalled opportunity to strengthen student employability upon graduation. However, as Audrey Murrell of the University of Pittsburgh, states, there is an inherent tension about this linkage:  “…a focus on career integration highlights the divide in the higher education community over whether education itself must have the explicit goal of ’employability’ especially for undergraduate education.”

I’d add that this tension is also due to the changing demographic of our college-age population. Once mostly white and relatively privileged, we know this is not the case now.  Back “in the day,” students were far less likely to worry about the job or career focus they should have approaching graduation (certainly in the social sciences).  Today, students are very concerned about how their curricular choices, along with co-curricular programs (i.e. study abroad, international internships), will impact their employability. This translates into very purposeful decision-making regarding participation in these programs.

Taken together, the two volumes offer important perspectives on how education abroad impacts student employability. While there may be some in our field who deplore this linkage, mistakenly thinking it is about the “vocationalization” of the collegiate experience, I have advocated, for over a decade, that assisting students in understanding how their international experience supports and strengthens their employability is the right thing to do. That it is, in fact, a moral imperative for campuses committed to internationalization.

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