At the recent IIE (Institute for International Education) Generation Study Abroad “Summit” held in Washington, D.C., a research survey report was released: “Gaining an Employment Edge: The Impact of Study abroad on 21st century Skills and Career Prospects in the United States, 2013-2016.” https://www.iie.org/Why-IIE/Announcements/2017-10-02-Gaining-an-Employment-Edge The survey is important because of its size – over 4,500 alumni – and scope ( respondents studied abroad between 1999-00 and 2016-17).
This Summit was the third sponsored by IIE in support of their initiative to double the number of American college students studying abroad by 2020. I’ve presented at all three events and this week, I joined colleagues in this live-streamed discussion on the report and the linkage of study abroad to post-graduation employability: https://www.facebook.com/IIEglobal/videos/10155683584138428/#IIESummit2017
Readers of this blog know I’ve been writing and discussing this topic for over a decade. It is heartening to know that all major associations and organizations in the field of international education – here and abroad – have moved to support the changing narrative about the value proposition of co-curricular international experiential learning of all types: service-learning, study abroad, internships and volunteerism. The issues covered in this survey and the findings now have a place on the agenda of NAFSA, EAIE, the Forum on Study Abroad, the Career Integration conferences sponsored by the University of Minnesota Learning Abroad Center & CAPA, and major associations in Australia, Japan, Canada, and elsewhere.
Here are the major Recommendations from the survey:
Coach students on how to communicate effectively the skills learned through study abroad to employers. The survey findings indicate that many employers do not ask about study abroad experiences during interviews. Those study participants who took the initiative to raise their study abroad experiences during job interviews reported a stronger connection between study abroad and employment offers, suggesting that students can benefit from interview coaching or training on how to communicate the value of their study abroad experiences to employers.
Integrate clear employment-related learning outcomes into the design of study abroad programs. While some respondents reported feeling uncertain about how to convey their study abroad learnings to prospective employers, nearly all participants reported using these skills on the job. To help address this gap, Study Abroad and Career Services offices should work collaboratively to infuse explicit career-oriented learning goals when designing study abroad programs, as well as help students to explicitly identify the transferrable skills they hope to gain through study abroad. These goals should be incorporated into all kinds of study abroad programs, including shortterm and long-term programs, those that are classroom-based and experiential programs such as internships. “I always wanted to go into medicine and was always interested in international medicine. So, I really knew I needed experience in that realm… Because you can’t be taking care of patients and come at them with a completely wrong baseline assumption about what their life is like or where they’re coming from.” Humanities Major Short-Term in Haiti, 1999/00 Current Industry: STEM 20
Leverage the strength of short-term study abroad programs in developing teamwork skills. When considering study abroad length, a longer time spent abroad does have a positive impact, especially for foreign language development, but short-term programs are also beneficial, particularly when more highly structured. Shorter term programs may be a preference for students that either do not have time to study abroad longer, or for students who may benefit most from the development of skills like teamwork, leadership, or work ethic. To enable the development of a range of employment-related skills, a variety of program types with different work-related learning objectives should be offered to students, including study abroad programs of varying duration, programs that emphasize independent learning or teamwork skills, and both classroom-based and experiential opportunities such as internships and volunteering.
Encourage students to study somewhere that is culturally or linguistically “different” than what they already know. When working with students to choose study abroad destinations and programs, consider their prior international exposure, and encourage them to push the envelope accordingly. Immersion in a culture that one is not familiar with already or that is linguistically or culturally different from home can have powerful career impacts. Students studying in unfamiliar destinations acquire greater intercultural skills and report more positive career impacts than students who study in more familiar destinations.
Increase STEM students’ participation in study abroad. STEM majors in the study noted that study abroad provided them a high value in being able to develop “soft” skills that were largely not addressed by their programs at home. STEM students reported especially high study abroad gains in skills such as oral and written communication, interpersonal skills, flexibility, adaptability, and intercultural skills. Many of the students noted that these skills set them apart from other job candidates in their field and gave them an edge in the job market.
There’s a very clear roadmap which senior campus administrators and faculty can adopt and adapt to support their campus internationalization policies and practices. The research regarding the link between education abroad and the development of critical skills and competencies, valued by employers in all sectors, is known and it is consistent.
The challenge to higher education institutions is to ensure that the benefits of going abroad accrue in equal measure to ALL students regardless of race, socio-economic background and ethnicity. We should resolve that EVERY student has an equal opportunity to reap the rewards of an international experience during their four years to gain the same advantages with respect to their future employability.