These are my notes from my webinar presentation conducted by the Sub-Committee on Work, Internships and Volunteering Abroad of NAFSA, Nov. 15, 2011 “Integrating the Internship Experience Into Long-Term Career Development”
A NEW RATIONALE FOR EDUCATION ABROAD —
STUDENTS NEED TO MAKE A PURPOSEFUL DECISION TO UNDERTAKE AN INTL INTERNSHIP—LINK IT TO STUDENT CAREER GOALS OR PREFERENCES
It’s important that students not only discuss their interest in an international internship with an advisor in the Study Abroad office, but, also review their decision in terms of their overall career plans – so speaking with an advisor in the Career Services office will be useful. Even if a student has not yet settled on a clear career path and feel it’s too early, there is much to be gained in having a conversation with a career advisor about plans to study abroad. Think it through at each stage:
WILL EMPLOYERS VALUE AN INTERNATIONAL INTERNSHIP? Yes, but not the experience itself; they value what is learned, how the student gained new skills such as language competency, increased cross-cultural knowledge and sensitivities, and critical thinking and analytic skills.
At first glance, the answer seems quite self-evident. How could they not? In a domestic economy which grows more linked to overseas markets and investors each year, companies must be on the cutting edge of new technological developments; always looking for opportunities in emerging markets in the developing world; constantly assessing their workforce requirements to insure that managers and workers understand the inter-related economic forces which impact their performance and the firms’ bottom line. Globalization is the most powerful economic factor influencing the job market in all regions of the world. Can we imagine the look of our global economy in 2025 and the skills and experience students will need, and employers will expect? What will the geo-political landscape look like? Will students be interning and working in North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya or Cuba? Can we predict the industries and workforce needs which will emerge from the current political chaos in these regions?
Employers Do Value Education Abroad
In a report prepared by J. Walter Thompson Education for the Institute of International Education (IIE), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the Australian Education Office, the company sought to determine employer acceptability and market value of an international degree among U.S. audiences – specifically students and employers. Its findings showed that “…employers most important selection criteria in recruiting a candidate are interpersonal skills, and when questioned employers believe that these skills are likely to be strong in a candidate who has had an overseas education experience. The challenge really is to more effectively link and promote this connection…[emphasis added]” (Thompson 2002)
In addition, the study reported that employers also found that candidates with international study experience possessed a wide range of skills desirable in their employees: these included, among others, cross-cultural communication skills, leadership, maturity, independence and cultural awareness. While this finding would likely warm the heart of any international educator, one of the ironies of the research is that only 3% of students surveyed stated that they expressly chose to study overseas because they believed that employers see those with some sort of overseas experience as more employable!
This finding points to a key issue, if not a vexing conflict, for international educators: Should students be encouraged to go abroad for altruistic reasons – i.e. to widen their world view and experience another culture (a goal cited by 60% of students in the Thompson study)? Or should their decision to participate in an education abroad experience(s) be linked more directly to future career goals and professional aspirations? Are these two points of view fundamentally incompatible, or are there opportunities before students depart, during their period of study abroad, and after they return to campus, to integrate their international experiences with both their career goals and the hiring criteria of employers? More on this in later posts.
Martin Tillman, President
Global Career Compass