An Update: Campus Challenges and Opportunities in Devising Meaningful Processes of Career Integration

In 2014, the University of Minnesota’s Learning Abroad Center in collaboration with CAPA, sponsored the first-ever Career Integration conference. I had already been writing and speaking about this topic for a decade and I was grateful to be part of this program and submit a piece for the publication which followed the conference (” On the Linkage of International Student Experience and Student Employability”). From the outset, although conference participants were predominently from the U.S., authors in the compilation of conference topics were drawn from many nations.

Conferences have subsequently taken place in 2014, 2016 and 2018. The open-sourced volumes for the first two events summarizing presentations can be found at: https://umabroad.umn.edu/professionals/career-int/resources/publications. The volume representing issues addressed in 2018 will be out in print on Monday, April 6; however, you can access the PDF here: wmv7iEbIxajjXtddFhxWToC5OYfB5ClscGizYKcV35N8P1gkY0h

At the first conference, a colleague named Simon Kho , formerly the director of the KPMG Global Internship Program [now Director of Campus Recruiting at Discover Financial Services], presented with me. And he wrote the Forward for the first conference publication. It’s worth quoting him:

“…there is a massive opportunity for university faculty and staff to serve as the bridge between workplace talent needs and students. Partnerhips between the world of work and the world of academia will broaden and deepen mutually beneficial interactions. Instead of just promoting international study experience, how can you help elevate the development opportunity for those students? We’d all agree that study abroad can be a life-altering experience. But, I have to believe that with the right preparation and learning cues, students who live and study overseas would maximize both personal and professional development, while impacting their future career trajectory.”

The 2020 volume carries on the dialogue as to whether or not campuses have been successful at building the bridge Kho alludes to. While written, of course, before the Covid-19 pandemic upended the world, I would hope the chapters provide food for thought as the global higher education community slowly digs itself out from this crisis. Here is an excerpt from the Introduction:

“The third edition of this journal offers further compelling evidence of the centrality of career preparation and employability in the agenda of education abroad. The discussions here, as in the previous volumes, attest to a pervasive awareness of the responsibility of educators for the lives of students beyond their formal studies. However, there is no untroubled consensus about how to realize this responsibility; it is apparent that the issues around career integration and employability are contested and challenge ideologies and pedagogies in several and various ways. There is, clearly, an ongoing and intense relationship between higher education and questions of employability within international contexts. These are uneasy times and, if there is such a thing as a zeitgeist, it might be that we seek remnants of security and pockets of stability. That education should lead to employment is just such a proposition; simple in statement but complex in application, as many of these essays demonstrate…”

It is safe to assume that the centrality of career preparation and employability within the context of education abroad will become even more critical in years to come. Campuses will need to reframe the contribution of international experience to the mission of their institution. Families will need to be convinced that as the job market recovers from the pandemic, their sons and daughters will gain essential skills and competencies from abroad experiences which strengthen their career aspirations upon graduation.

For further reading, I’d recommend a volume published in 2019 by Stylus and NAFSA: Education Abroad and the Undergraduate Experience: Critical Perspectives and Approaches to Integration With Student Learning and Development, co-edited by E. Brewer, A. Ogden. It’s excellent and the chapter on “The Intersection of Education Abroad and Career Readiness and the Role of International Educators” highlights current research connecting education abroad and employability.

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