Fontys University of Applied Sciences (The Netherlands) is coordinator of the development of an International Alumni Monitoring Tool (IAMT) within the INTERLOCALITY consortium. This tool will track and collect objective data on the mobility and career progression of international students in the fields of engineering or business administration, and subjective data on their perceptions of their participation in the labour market, their intentions to stay and the factors affecting their international career (hindering or promoting their personal and professional development). The IAMT provides the educational institutions and partners in the region with valuable information in order to shape and adapt their support to students and employers. It will also help the international students themselves with the development of their own employability by offering surveys for self-awareness and tools to improve the needed skills and knowledge.
Literature review and interviews finished
The first phase of the project consisted of an extensive literature review, which was conducted in the first half of 2022. The previous studies into the career development of international students and knowledge workers have been mapped out, and relevant information about existing monitoring tools for alumni at a national and international level has been studied. In the second half of 2022, interviews were held in the four participating countries with international students, regional employers, policy officers from the relevant universities of applied sciences and other groups involved in the internationalisation of the labour market. The aim of these interviews was to analyse the needs and experiences of the various parties and map out the information that is required for the proper functioning of the IAMT.
Results: hindering factors
Concluding this first phase, the results of the literature review and interviews are now ready. There seem to be quite some hindering factors for international students entering the local labour market. One of the main difficulties is bureaucracy, especially for non-EU talents. Lengthy visa and work permit processes discourage employers to attract internationals, and lead to uncertainty for the internationals. Another difficulty is language. Most international students expect to be able to handle their degree programme and professional career in English, but they tend to face limited job opportunities and a reduced social integration when they do not speak the local language. Cultural differences constitute another hindering factor, which can lead to misunderstanding and miscommunications since internationals are not familiar with the local customs, traditions, and practices. A lack of career skills also hinders international talents; they are not always familiar with the types of jobs available on the local labour market, the qualifications required, and the expectations of employers. Cultural differences can lead to different expectations and norms when it comes to job search etiquette, such as what to include in a CV or how to present oneself in an interview. In addition, international talents seem to have limited networks and connections to the local labour market, which makes it difficult to identify interesting companies and apply successfully when there’s an open position.
The interviews show that there is a lack of open-mindedness on the part of local SME employers, preventing them from attracting international talents. Employers hold biases and stereotypes about people from different countries or cultures, which can lead them to make assumptions about a candidate’s skills, experience or work ethic. These biases can prevent employers from considering international talents for open positions, even if they have the necessary skills and experience. Employers also seem to be hesitant to hire international talents if they are not fluent in the local language, which can create communication barriers that can make it difficult to collaborate effectively. Also, they are concerned about the administrative hurdles and the social integration of the international within the company if there are no other internationals.
Both the international students and employers show a lack of feeling responsible for the employability. International students are not always familiar with the expectations and norms of the local labour market, such as what skills and experience are in demand, or what employers are looking for in a candidate. This can make it difficult for them to feel the urgency to properly prepare themselves in time for the local labour market, including taking language courses or training in career skills. Also, they may not receive the support and guidance needed – during their degree programme or after graduation – which they need to develop the skills and experiences necessary to compete effectively for jobs on the local labour market. This can include access to career services, mentoring, internships during their degree programme, or other opportunities that can help them build their networks and gain experience.
SME employers do not fully understand the challenges that international talents face when seeking employment, including language and cultural barriers, or differences in the job search process. Especially small companies seem to have limited resources available to support the career development of their employees, including internationals. Also, most employers appear to have a short-term focus on filling immediate job vacancies, rather than investing in the long-term career development of their potential employees. And some employers seem not to be aware of the benefits of hiring international talents, including the skills and experience they bring, and the potential for diversity and innovation in the workplace.
Results: reasons to recruit international talent
Those SME’s who do recruit international talents appear to do so for multiple reasons. SMEs may struggle to find local candidates with the specific skills and experience they need to grow their business. Recruiting international talents helps them fill these gaps. Some employers are looking to expand their business internationally and recruit international talents with expertise and knowledge of new markets. Also, international talents bring language skills that can be beneficial to expand into international markets or serve a diverse customer base. Recruiting international talents can bring cultural diversity to SME’s, since they bring new perspectives and ideas to the company, which can lead to a more inclusive and innovative work environment. And in some cases, recruiting international talents can be a cost-effective option for SMEs, particularly if the local talent pool is limited or if international talents are willing to work for lower salaries.
Results: enabling factors
One of the main enabling factors for international talent is building a network of contacts during their degree programme, including people from their home country present in the host country, fellow international students and classmates from the host country, lecturers and locals met through a shared personal interest (i.e. sports or hobby club) or a side job. This social embeddedness is of course important to create a sense of belonging and integration in the host country. The social network also provides valuable support for navigating the challenges of living in a new country, including dealing with bureaucracy, cultural differences and language barriers. And most importantly, these networks are very valuable during job searches, i.e. internships during their degree programme or employment on the local labour market after graduation.
So, that is why support for entering the local labour market from the University of Applied Sciences or local third-party organizations constitutes another enabling factor for international talents. Via career services (counselling, help with writing a CV or cover letter), job search resources (job portals, job fairs), and networking opportunities, the employability of international students can be significantly improved. Internships during their degree programme allow international students not only to gain practical work experience in their field of study, but also to expand their professional network. Universities of applied sciences can also provide language training and cultural awareness training to help international students better understand the cultural norms and expectations on the local labour market. And they may offer alumni networks that connect international students with graduates who can offer career advice, mentorship, and networking opportunities.
Employers on their part could allow for English (until the international speaks the local language) as an enabling factor for international talents on the local labour market. Universities of applied sciences, third-party organizations and employers can provide language courses for internationals so they can improve their language skills, which creates a better social embeddedness in the long run.
Development of IAMT
All these results will inform the development of the International Alumni Monitoring Tool. The aim of the IAMT is to promote career guidance for international students. A prototype will be developed in the second half of 2023, which will be extensively tested at Fontys and Arcada. A manual will also be created for other European universities of applied sciences, so they can develop their own monitoring tool in the future.