Upskilling the international graduate talent market for a post-pandemic future

“Overseas talent has always been well-primed to help fill skills gaps in high-growth sectors like digital and technology”

Earlier this month, the UK government released further details on its new points-based immigration system, part of which hopes to provide international students the opportunity to live and work in the UK for a further two to three years after they graduate, writes Justin Cooke, chief content and partnerships officer at FutureLearn.

Similarly, in Australia, the government has announced it will recommence granting student visas among other measures to help support international student’s career pathways in the country. 

Unlocking the potential in highly skilled international student talent has become a greater priority for both industry and government over the years, more urgently so since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, larger businesses especially have continued relying on the international graduate market according to recent insights, demonstrating the huge value of this talent pool.

But with millions of newly-graduated talent (both domestic and international) facing an unpredictable future, the next step in terms of governmental support will need to be towards providing students greater access to the skills they need to succeed in the jobs and industries of the post-covid future.

Developing overseas students for the workplace of the future

Prior to the pandemic, technological innovations were already disrupting the jobs and skills landscapes. A 2019 report from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport found that digital skills are in high demand, with 82% of job vacancies requiring technological skills and Covid-19 has only increased this demand, with IT remaining the leading area of recruitment in the UK since March. 

Yet research has shown that graduates lack the necessary digital and soft skills for the modern and the future workplace. According to a 2020 Manpower Group report which explores global skills gaps, 54% of companies worldwide have reported a lack of candidates with relevant skills, particularly in technological areas but also in industries such as healthcare, and sales and marketing.

We have already seen the UK government launch initiatives to plug the digital skills gap and help professionals develop in-demand skills during the pandemic.

Most recently, the Department for Education launched The Skills Toolkit, a collection of online resources – including several FutureLearn courses built in partnership with Accenture, as well as the Institute of Coding and the University of Leeds – which are designed to equip people with the digital and numeracy skills employers are looking for.

Similarly, in order to support international students impacted by travel restrictions, the Australian Trade and Investment Commission partnered with FutureLearn to launch the ‘Study with Australia’ pilot campaign, providing hundreds of thousands of students free access to high-quality online learning resources from Australian education providers. 

Campaigns such as these have been phenomenally successful and have allowed edtech companies like us to collaborate closely with national governments as they provide crucial support to HEIs and their international students at this time.

However, it is important that governments continue to build on this collaboration and momentum, and create more tailored support and training that matches the unique needs of international talent. 

For example, overseas students face an even more challenging situation as they learn to navigate foreign workplaces and structures while operating within an already highly competitive space, which has only become more competitive since the start of the pandemic.

Yet overseas talent has always been well-primed to help fill skills gaps in high-growth sectors like digital and technology, and research from UUKi has found that international student’s appetite to gain valuable experience and skills is even higher than that of domestic students. 

Better access to training opportunities that help them develop not just technical skills, but CV-writing, interviewing or even basic language and workplace communication skills, for example, can make all the difference. This is just one area where domestic governments can step in to help provide a more holistic support system. 

Building an long term strategy to support international students now and beyond COVID

Creating opportunities for international students to launch their careers abroad is a significant move, but it is just the first step on the longer term path which will involve helping them develop the right skills to succeed in those roles.

Governments will now need to prioritise initiatives that provide additional support to help international talent continue to thrive within their borders.

This will have the knock-on effect of keeping world-class educational and innovation destinations such as the UK attractive to prospective overseas students, while building on the longer term ‘big picture’ strategies to futureproof the global workforce and economy as we prepare for life beyond the pandemic.

About the Author: Justin Cooke is chief content and partnerships officer at FutureLearn and leads the development of FutureLearn’s content and partnership activity, helping to provide a world-class portfolio targeted at in-demand jobs and global skills gaps.