Corporations need to become part of the study abroad ecosystem

“The link between studying abroad and getting a job is not as strong as it might have been in the past. One reason is that study abroad is not as exclusive as in the past”

Students are growing ever more conscious of the investments they make when it comes to study abroad, and they want to know that the time and money they spend will translate to job opportunities post-graduation. Getting companies on board could help to ensure that’s the case, writes Richie Santosdiaz, study abroad advocate and economic development expert for PA Consulting.

What inspired me to write this was a recent conversation with a friend from the USA whose younger sister was interested in pursuing a master’s degree overseas. The friend gave advice that the younger sister should only study abroad in the UK or on certain programs in Western Europe, Canada, and Australia, because it will be difficult to get a job in the USA afterwards – and that the countries mentioned are home to some of the most recognised universities globally. Naturally, at first I disagreed, but later recanted because in many ways that actually is a true statement.

Later, it made me think that actually, the link between studying abroad and getting a job is not as strong as it might have been in the past. A main reason is that study abroad is not as exclusive as in the past, which is great as more students are getting the opportunity to go abroad. There is still much work on this front, as what many initiatives such as in the USA with IIE’s Generation Study Abroad, particularly in the socio-economic and underrepresented minority backgrounds, but the numbers are improving.

This same argument is similar for undergraduate degrees in general, as well as master’s degrees and PhDs. In economic terms, this has created much more of a supply in the young educated workforce. Therefore, someone with a degree from, say, Oxford most likely will have a greater chance of getting a job afterwards than someone with a similar degree from an institution in an emerging economy, given that the competition is very high.

“Students have every right to ask if study abroad will get them a job after college”

It dawned upon me, both from personal experience and current study abroad trends, that the ecosystem is not complete. Yes there is much passion and drive from universities, the US government, study abroad professionals, and alumni to an extent – but what about corporations? After all, corporations, both big and small, are the ones who mostly will be employing study abroad students after their studies.

For almost all students, a major factor in going abroad in the first place is to boost CVs and to increase their changes of employability with international experience.  But the associated costs, coupled with outrageously expensive tuition fees in the USA, mean students have to be cautious with money. They have every right to ask if study abroad will get them a job after college, which some even questioning if college might be right for them at all.

Corporations are essential in getting the ecosystem complete with respect to study abroad. They not offer jobs for employees, but in addition, will employ study abroad alumni who most likely organically ended up working for X company. This will help get more alumni engaged as well to help drive causes like Generation Study Abroad.

It sounds simple and easy – yes, X company will definitely help study abroad causes. But that is a dream in itself. At the end of the day, companies have to be surviving financially. They will ask, “What is in this for me?”

“It’s like a smoking ban – unless something is pushed on people, they will not change these habits naturally”

To get more companies to join the ecosystem there has to be not just an acknowledgement that they play a vital and important role, but also an incentive to give their support. It’s like laws such as a smoking ban or seat belts – unless something is pushed on people, they will not change these habits naturally. It is not to say that companies should be forced to an extent as a seatbelt law but, there should be mechanisms that will encourage them to change habits more in favour of study abroad.

First, give companies ownership – partnership with respect to taking charge in boosting more job opportunities for ex-study abroad students. Rather than just creating an initiative or a campaign, make sure corporations are part of that decision-making process from design to implementation. In particular, study abroad alumni working in a company may be more willing to help out whenever possible as they know first-hands the opportunities study abroad gave to them.

Second, this might be controversial, but in whatever legal way possible to give tax breaks to hiring staff or some type of financial incentive. Money talks and corporations, both big and small, will pay attention if they can benefit financially. It might not be legal to make preferential treatment in hiring certain individuals, but, there might be possibilities with recruitment campaigns, job searching requirements, and bespoke hiring campaigns that can highlight and promote ex-study abroad students who have the international experience from studies and want to incorporate that in the workplace.

“Money talks and corporations will pay attention if they can benefit financially”

Finally, remind companies that helping promote study abroad can be an investment in a future workforce. It is very difficult in this day in age to be guaranteed a job, even in industries that once had a mentality that a job is for life. However, companies can foster talent at university and the study abroad student can be a great investment. For instance, they could create opportunities for study abroad students similar to the increasing graduate rotational management programs that some companies offer. A student can work for X company under the program for a year prior to graduation as an internship, and then they would be guaranteed a job under a graduate program, where they would commit to the company for a few years.

Companies and organisations in both the private and public sectors can do more to boost study abroad numbers through supporting young population in employment. Much needs to be done, but getting companies on board can be a great starting point. Companies need to be more engaged with the study abroad ecosystem. A student should not have to limit their study abroad choice based on the odds of getting a job afterwards, as all study abroad experiences can add value to our global workforce.