As International Students, you spend between $10,000 to $50,000 (depending on your course) for tuition alone. On top of that you spend on living cost and incur an opportunity cost of the money you could have earned if you worked full-time instead. What is the point if what you learnt is worthless by 2020? If you really think about it, it is a million dollar question that we forget to ask ourselves before we select a course. It is said that by 2020 most jobs will not require skills that are considered important today. We are already witnessing the changes in the job market with 34% of graduates in Australia unable to find full-time work. We are already feeling the impact by being the highest qualified but least paid generation. This pattern will worsen next five years and it is now the time to take control of your future.
I am going to breakdown what 2020 skills are, how to select the best course to study at University and how to ensure we survive the Australian job market in the coming decades!
Future of Jobs Report
In 2016, the World Economic Forum (WEF) released the Future of Jobs report that analyses the findings from a survey conducted amongst executives from over 350 employers across 9 industries to predict the changes technological advancement will bring upon skills, employment and workforce strategy. If you are interested, you can read the full report (I have linked it down below) for a thorough understanding. However, I will be summarising the key findings that I believe are relevant for International Students and University student in general. There is no curriculum or course of study that directly relate to skills (see below image) described in the report, but they are salient to the outcome of tertiary education.
1. Enrol in challenging units to train your cognitive mind
Cognitive ability refers to a person’s capacity to carry multiple activities involving logical reasoning, problem solving, and / or mathematical reasoning. Many occupations in the coming years will give cognitive ability a greater importance compared to small extent in today’s time. Unlike most skills, this takes longer to develop.
Research shows that International Students adversely affect their cognitive development during University compared to domestic students due to loneliness and feeling isolated from family and friends. So for starters, you need to make your transition to Australia a smooth one. Make friends, become a member of your cultural society to meet your own nationals and socialise with peers. Don’t let factors like stereotyping, fear of not sounding native or judgement stop you from growth. Domestic students I have met during my time in University were nothing but welcoming, understanding and intelligent.
During your studies, take courses that are challenging, which pushes your limits and help build a network with elite professors. I understand the difficulty in managing four units in one semester and keeping your average in tact. Balance between two challenging and two less challenging units. You can showcase the projects that test your cognitive ability on resumes for future employers.
2. Minor specialisation or double degrees in growing industries
According to the report, there is an expected employment growth in Architecture, Engineering, Computer and Mathematical fields. While we will witness a moderate growth in Business and Financial Operations; Office and Administrative role will significantly decline.
International Students need to focus on learning and studying the growing industries. Being in a classroom filled with mathematicians or engineers gives a better perspective and learning than self-learning on these subjects. I am not asking you to change your major, but consider expanding your scope by selecting a minor specialisation in a different field. It is also very common amongst Undergraduates to select double majors in completely unrelated fields (eg. Law and Engineering or Commerce and Psychology) to enhance scope and create flexibility for future employment trends.
3. Pick thesis, assignments and case studies to solve complex real-world problems
One third of all jobs across all industries deem solving complex problems to be the most demanded core skill. Technology will aid collection of large data that need to be ascertained as the trends are complex and analytical.
The best way to demonstrate your problem solving skills is through the work you have completed during your University days. Especially for those who doesn’t have years of experience, thesis and projects are a great way to highlight your knack for problem solving. Pick growing companies with real issues and build a case study around it. Speaking of case studies, pay attention and actively participate in case study classes and sessions. The discussions will open up your way of thinking and offer useful frameworks to evaluate problems.
4. Actively participate in class activities to constantly stimulate your creative mind
It is nothing new, humans have been replaced by machines since time. However, two things that were not replaced were creativity and interacting with one another. Jobs in highly technical industries will value and demand for creativity and interpersonal skills.
Educationalist Guy Claxton defines creativity as a frame of mind and a set of attitudes that people apply when they encounter difficulties. University education will not be a facilitator for creativity if you don’t put the equal effort. I feel the tasks that inspire student’s creativity are usually ungraded. These are done during tutorials where active participation is optional, hence taken for granted. In comparison to domestic students, International Students tend to be less involved in class activities and they rather spend time at the library studying.
In one of my Marketing units, we were asked to create a poster advertisement, for Honda targeting graduates, in less than 15 minutes. Clearly we aren’t artists, but we were the first runner up out of 15 groups participating. Sales and Related jobs will see an increase in creative work to enhance a memorable experience for customers.
5. Practical experience is valued beyond formal qualification
The respondents for report claimed “beyond hard skills and formal qualifications, employers are often equally concerned about the work-related practical skills or competences that current employees (or prospective new hires) are able to use in order to perform various job tasks successfully”.
HR Managers will continue to offer the opportunity to candidates with practical skills over the rest. Great aspect about studying in Australia as International Students is that you are eligible for 20 hours of paid work and full-time during breaks. Take the full advantage to utilise these hours to your benefit. Further to this, participating in University clubs and extracurricular activities are bonus for your resume.
Most Universities offer work placement as an alternative to a course for the same number of credits. This is similar to an unpaid internship where you are achieving the course objectives through real world experience. This is indeed a valuable investment as oppose to another classroom course.
6. Growth industries
If you are right after high school struggling to figure out which area you wish to follow, it is important to understand what are the industries will boom in the next decade and will place more importance for human skill than robots.
According to the report, here are the findings. As mentioned in point two, Architecture, Engineering, Business, Computer and Mathematical job families will exhibit the strongest employment growth. The roles for data analysts, information security analyst and network professional will undergo significant shift and demand. Human Resource is a field that didn’t have a seat at the table, but that wouldn’t be the case for too long. With change in the drivers of employment, human attraction and retention will be considered a strategic role.
7. Enhance social and communication skills
Social skills are another growing core skill that is in demand. This entails persuasion, emotional intelligence, negotiation and teaching others. While these are taught within classroom, they are more practical skills that are developed when used in actual scenarios. Without making it redundant, I refer back to the point 5 on the importance of gaining experience while in University.
Communication is verbal and non-verbal communication. You are not able excel at social skills with poor communication skills. International Students mistake communication for having an Australian accent. You don’t have to sound like a native speak, but your communication has to be clear and accurate. It comes with practice. Engage with domestic students or even other nationals in English. Ask for feedback from your lecturers on your communication after a presentation. You can even let them know you are making a deliberate effort to improve – trust me, lecturers are very helpful in Australian Universities. If you still believe you are not in par, take English courses. There are plenty designed specifically for International Students. Some are offered within University for minimum or no cost; speak with the University administration office.
8. Keep learning and stay relevant
This statistic blew my mind but I appreciate how accurate it is.
50% of subject knowledge acquired in the first year of a technical degree will be outdated by the time students gradate in four years. The industries are experiencing and will continue to undergo unprecedented rate of change.
We have to make a conscious effort to keep up to date with knowledge through reading, watching educational videos and subscribing to industry publications. This is another reason why you must prioritise University period to develop soft skills, network and push your limits over and above the book knowledge.
To ensure your units are not obsolete, attempt your core courses first and leave the electives for the last semesters of the year (if possible). This way you are able to select units with relevance for the time. Flexibility in course section is important so that half way through you have room to make a change.
Future is uncertain, yet change is certain and inevitable. There is no point fighting because that is a battle you will lose. Receive it with a positive attitude and think of it as an opportunity, rather than a threat.
Did you find this helpful? Are you interested in reading the World Economic Forum – Future of Jobs full report?
Until next time…