Getting a Job in Australia - Insights from the International Student Employability Forum

webster By Mark Webster
Thursday, 29 September 2016

As part of the International Student Employability Forum, I was invited to join a panel discussing how international students can enhance their job prospects in Australia.

The event was attended by hundreds of international students from Australian Catholic University, Western Sydney University, University of Sydney, UNSW, UTS, Macquarie University and University of Wollongong.

Also on the panel were:

  • John Wenborne, Enterprise Account Executive, LinkedIn: John gave some great tips on how you can use Linkedin to raise your profile and stay in touch with your network
  • Sunita Nigudkar, HR Specialist- Entry Level Talent Programs, Schneider Electric: Sunita talked about the perspective of large employers in offering internships and sourcing staff
  • Sophia Demetriades, Director Communication & Partnerships, Intersective: Sophia focussed on networking and how internships can assist you in your career.
Each panellist was given a series of questions on how international students can make themselves more employable in Australia - below are my responses:

Is there any generic advice you can give in terms of immigration and employability? What positive things can students do to maximise their ability to stay?

1. Study Your Passion, Not for PR

Many students seem to study courses just because they think they might have a better chance of getting their PR. Wrong approach - you're better to study something you have a passion for. Immigration rules change, and you might end up not being able to apply for PR.

If you study something you love, the worst thing that can happen is that you have a qualification in a career you actually want to pursue. If you do well in your course, this will make it easier to get a job you love, and this can also open up immigration opportunities.

If you study something just for PR, you'll be competing against a lot of other people for limited places and you might end up spending a lot of money and being disappointed in the end.

2. Get Out of your Comfort Zone

Make the most of living in a different country. Rather than staying in your comfort zone, make friends with locals and with students from other nationalities.

Try something different - Join a club, do volunteer work, live in share accommodation.

Interacting with locals will greatly improve your English language ability, and will mean that you make connections which might make it easier for you to get a skilled job on completion.

3. It's Never Too Early to Work on your English

English language testing is the most important single factor in the skilled migration points test. You can score up to 20 points for English and this can make all the difference between becoming a PR and not. Results are valid for 3 years, so it's never to early to start working on this.

Many students struggle to get the scores they need - the main reason for this is often that they do not understand how the test works. English test preparation courses can help, and many students benefit from one on one tutoring.

The worst thing to do is to just sit the test repeatedly - this gets very depressing. Unless you do something different, why would the results change?

4. Get your First Skilled Job

Once you have a job in Australia in your profession, many options start opening up. For instance, there are a range of employer sponsored visa options, and many states and territories require you to have a job offer before they will sponsor you.

So don't just work at the local supermarket, focus on getting work in your occupation. Focus on networking, and try an internship. There are a number of providers who can arrange an internship for you with a quality provider. Some occupations have a professional year option - such as IT, Engineering and Accounting. This gives you extra points and might help with skills assessment, but most importantly it allows you to get your foot in the door in the Australian job market.

5. Think Regional

Getting a permanent visa to live in Sydney is getting more and more competitive. For people willing to "look outside the square" and consider regional Australia, there are lots of opportunities.

For instance, NSW is one of the biggest users of the Skilled Regional Subclass 489 visa - this is a 4-year provisional visa, which leads to permanent residence once you've lived and worked in regional Australia for 2 years.

If you have a job offer in regional Australia, you can consider an RSMS visa - this is a permanent employer sponsored visa which you can apply for without skills assessment and without skilled work experience.

Many students are reluctant to move outside of the main capital cities (Sydney, Melbourne). My experience is that the ones that do make the move really enjoy the lifestyle and often don't return to a major city after they get their PR.

What are the skills you look for that make people more employable?

In today's business environment, technical skills are taken as given and that it's the soft skills that really make candidates stand out.

Attributes that we really value at Acacia Immigration are:

  • Proactive - noticing what needs to change and taking initiative to address it
  • Quick Learner - Having the humility to learn from experiences, take feedback on board and really think about how to do things better
  • Attention to Detail - People who have pride in their work and make sure that they get the basics right. Simple errors can mean customers lose confidence in the service, and with visa applications can often make the difference between success and failure
  • Customer Service - the ability to see things from customer's perspective and really make sure that every interaction with clients is positive

What would prevent you from employing an international student?

I'd rather answer the opposite question - what considerations would encourage me to hire an international student!

We have hired international students in our business previously and this has been quite positive. International students have a lot to offer Australian businesses, and some of the talking points you might want to use include:

  • Different Perspective: seeing things differently can lead to great insights to improve the business
  • Understanding of and Connection with International Markets: we live in an increasingly global society and those who can engage outside of Australia have a huge advantage
  • High level of training: international students have up to date skills from their Australian studies, and often have qualifications from their home country as well
  • Positive Attitude and Work Ethic: international students value the opportunity and are often willing to work hard to establish themselves in Australia

Main issues employers would have in hiring international students would typically be:

  • Making sure that the student has work rights on their visa
  • Uncertainty about length of tenure due to visa expiry dates
  • Communication Skills
  • Relevant local experience

How important is a visa/type of visa to employability?

Fundamental - employers often won't even give an interview unless students can show that they have work rights on their visa.

Employer face fines and other penalties under Australian Immigration Law if they employ temporary residents in breach of their visa conditions.

Many employers don't understand the work rights which apply on temporary visas - for instance the 40 hours a fortnight restriction on student visas.

They might also be concerned about the short-term nature of temporary visas - if your visa is expiring in 6 months, why would an employer invest in training you and getting you up to speed?

Once you have a permanent visa, the situation is much more favourable. As you have unrestricted work rights and no expiry date on your stay in Australia, employers will be much more willing to give you a chance.

From an employer perspective, how do you feel about hiring people on a 485 postgraduate visa?

The Graduate Temporary Subclass 485 visa gives you full work rights for anywhere between 18 months and 4 years depending on your course.

Because it has unrestricted work rights, there are no major concerns in hiring someone on this visa.

The length of the visa is the main constraint - however it is quite common for employers to look at sponsoring students on 485 visas. There is a pathway onto a 4-year 457 visa, and then onto a permanent ENS visa after 2 years.

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