Career support is fundamental for international higher education degree students seeking employment during and after their studies. To enhance their host country employability, the Erasmus+ project INTERLOCALITY – Increased Local Employability of International Degree Students, is developing an International Talent Journey (ITJ) for international students throughout their studies. Arcada is one of the partners of the project, and we are currently piloting our version of the ITJ during the academic year 2023-2024. At Arcada, the ITJ pilot is about integrating career support as a compulsory part of the regular curriculum, instead of as extra-curricular activities, or as stand-alone courses or credits.
Through participating in the INTERLOCALITY project, it has become clear that host country employability is a universal challenge for international students. Project partners have generously shared their approaches, and we have realised that embedding career-focused learning in the curriculum and adopting a proactive job-seeking approach are key steps toward enhancing employability. We are eager to actively pursue new and innovative opportunities to foster a more sustainable local talent ecosystem and the ITJ provides platform to explore solutions by engaging with partners across Europe, adds Rizwan Ullah, Degree Programme Director for Mechanical and Sustainable Engineering.
The pilot is a unique chance for the students to influence the development of career support specifically for international students at Arcada. The two participating degree programmes are the Bachelor’s degree programme in International Business (IB), and the Bachelor’s degree programme in Mechanical and Sustainable Engineering (MSEs). 17 international students from IB and 10 from MSE have signed up for the ITJ pilot. In order to pilot the whole cohort within a year, they are all first-year students. However, in the future the plan is to space out the ITJ over the 3,5-4 years of study.
Early exposure to career planning helps students make informed decisions about their future. They can explore different career paths and understand the qualifications and skills needed for various professions in host country. Career-oriented curricula often involve interactions with industry professionals, which can lead to valuable networking opportunities and potential job leads, says Susanna Fabricius, Degree Programme Director for International Business.
The three phases of the talent journey
The ITJ started during the first week of the academic year with an initial assessment in the form of an online survey about the students’ previous education (formal, informal, and non-formal), work experience, interests, and hobbies. It also included self-reflection on personal values, language skills, soft and hard skills, as well as strengths and weaknesses with regards to host country employment. Additionally, the students were asked to share their needs for, and expectations of, career support provided by Arcada during their studies.
Throughout the academic year, the students take part in various career support activities, which are integrated into the regular curriculum and thus not elective. The ITJ students also meet with their teachers responsible for the tailored implementation of the ITJ in their respective degree programmes along the journey to gain information and share experiences.
In the beginning of 2024, the ITJ students will be asked to fill out a self-reflective career skills test as sort of a halfway point through the journey. This, together with the initial assessment survey, will be the basis for a one-hour individual session with a career guidance counsellor in the spring of 2024 where the students have the opportunity to discuss and reflect on their personal development and experiences of the ITJ. This session will also be the final assessment of the ITJ for the students, who will be issued a certificate of participation upon completion of the journey.
Insights from the pre-assessment survey
17 IB students and 10 MSE students filled out the survey. The majority of them were female and most students were from Sri Lanka, with some students also from China, Nepal, and Bangladesh. This is interesting, as Arcada’s student population represents more than 50 nationalities. Another surprising find was the amount of previous studies and work experience among these students, who are currently studying for a Bachelor’s degree. Just under half of the respondents already had a Bachelor’s degree, and some even a Master’s. These had been completed abroad, often in their home countries. All but two respondents had some form of previous work experience and the vast majority of it was full-time work. The experience ranged from a couple of years up to 17 years of work experience. Almost all respondents reported an advanced level of English language skills.
The respondents reported the following strengths with regards to employment in the host country: leadership, teamwork, communication skills, experience, professionalism, motivation, drive, passion for continuous growth and learning, strong work ethics, appreciation for diversity, positive attitude, environmental awareness, cultural sensitivity, adaptability, curiosity, determination, creativity, innovative thinking, problem-solving, customer service, and perseverance. They also reported the following weaknesses: low Finnish and Swedish language skills, IT skills, presentation and public speaking, local networks, local customer preferences, not being able to say no, not asking for help, trying to be perfect, sensitive, detail-oriented, academic skills, timid, self-confidence, and procrastination. These responses point to highly motivated and skilled students who face both practical barriers in terms of lack of language skills and local networks, as well as barriers connected to personality and self-confidence, such as being timid and not daring to say no.
Needs for, and expectations of, career support provided by Arcada during studies
The initial assessment survey also included a question about the students’ needs for, and expectations of, career support provided by Arcada during their studies. The students provided open answers, which can be summarised as:
Support for looking for a job
- Resume and cover letter assistance
- Job searching resources
- Career-related events and resources
- Networking support, e.g. recommendations and connections
- Access to alumni networks
- Interview preparation
- Workplace Readiness training
- Finnish labour market insights
- Finnish employment culture
Guidance and counselling
- Personal guidance
- Career development workshops
- Career assessment tools
- Personal assessment of prior experience and knowledge
- Career guidance for change of field of study
- Matching current studies with previous knowledge and work experience
- Study counselling
- Psychological services
- Support for students with special needs
Support for securing work opportunities
- Part-time job during studies
- Internship and co-op opportunities
- Entrepreneurship support
- Support in finding a job related to studies and previous work experience
- Support to improve professional skills
- Support in improving local language skills
- Guidance from experienced professionals.
As a career counsellor at Arcada, I’m committed to addressing various elements that include job search assistance, refining resumes and cover letters, providing job-hunting resources, and organising career-centric events tailored to our international students. Recognising the unique challenges faced by international students, Arcada’s Career Centre provides personalised support, including networking assistance, interview preparation and skills recognition. We also strive to provide valuable insights into the Finnish labour market and its employment culture. Through counselling, events and workshops, we assist students in career development, matching their experiences with their goals, and support them in changes in fields of study or career paths. We also collaborate with Arcada’s Entrepreneurship Hub which is an incredible resource serving students interested in entrepreneurship. While we don’t facilitate specific agreements for internships or jobs, we want to empower international students in taking proactive steps toward their career goals. Looking at the results from the initial assessment of the ITJ, I’d say we have identified the students’ needs correctly and are already addressing them. However, I look forward to the spring of 2024 when I will meet personally with the ITJ students and hear directly from them about their experiences, says Olivia Lindström, Career Counsellor.
Author: Sandra Slotte, Senior Policy Advisor, Internationalisation and INTERLOCALITY Project Manager at Arcada.