October 2018 - June 2019
The Upskill Through Work Integrated Learning (WIL) program places international students with local businesses. The program scopes out local organisation’s needs and highlights how international students can help fulfil those needs to create mutually beneficial work placement opportunities. The project has increased access to industry placements in the Hunter region for international students at the University of Newcastle. Students from eight countries enrolled in undergraduate programs in the Faculty of Business and Law and participated in the program in 2019. In addition, one postgraduate international student was employed as a project assistant to assist in implementing the project.
The Upskill Through WIL project increased access to industry placements for international students at the University of Newcastle. In 2019, 20 international students completed the BUSN3002 Industry placement course. In addition, one postgraduate international student was employed as a Project Assistant to assist the Faculty of Business and Law in implementing the project. She said “My communication skills and customer service skills are really improving in a global context, not limited to my country...I also learned that my existing skills, prior to taking this role, were very useful as well. My technical skills, project management skills, interpersonal skills and customer service and administrative are very useful so I haven’t thrown them away. I have just maximised them and enhanced them so I could blend it with the Australian way.”
This year, four of the host organisations who had previously hosted international students in 2018 were enthusiastic to participate again. This demonstrates they recognise the unique benefits gained by hosting an international student. Due to the work of the Project Assistant, the University of Newcastle was also able to attract new host organisations. The groundwork to increase the visibility of the project and the Industry Placement program in the Hunter business community means that the awareness of the unique perspectives, language skills and market knowledge that international students can bring to a host organisation has grown and will continue to have positive flow-on effects for hosting opportunities beyond 2019.
The Upskill Through WIL project is a multi-staged approach to addressing the barriers that international students face in regional areas when seeking industry-based experience and employment opportunities. The project helps break down barriers such as difference in culture and language, enabling international students to make connections and develop skills that help them find employment opportunities.
There were 20 regionally based international students who gained industry-based experience embedded through coursework in the BUSN3002 Industry Placement course. Host organisations were given the opportunity for capacity building and upskilling through tailored online training. International students received pre-placement face-to-face training as well as peer-to-peer advice and mentoring from students who had previously completed a WIL placement to help prepare them for success in their Australian work placements. Students were also given the opportunity to attend a tailored post-placement workshop to maximise their industry experience in future employment opportunities. In addition to the WIL outcomes, two students who completed their placement in Semester 1, have gained casual employment as a direct result of their WIL placement and the postgraduate student hired in the project-funded Project Assistant role has also gained employment, extending her role in the Faculty of Business and Law.
The major deliverable of this project in 2019 is the Peer Mentoring Program – designed by the Project Assistant in consultation with past and current WIL students. The program aims to upskill students who have completed the WIL placement, to mentor incoming international students for the course. This peer-to-peer model will add value to the existing formal supervision that faculty staff already provide but addresses the gaps identified by students to accessing WIL placements in regional locations. The program also creates paid employment opportunities for international students who successfully complete WIL and become mentors in the program. This program is customisable and can be adapted to suit the unique processes and challenges of any placement program.
Challenges and recommendations
There are continued improvements to be made to increase access for international students to complete WIL at the University of Newcastle. The demand still outweighs the supply. This continues to have multiple causes including that international students are unfamiliar with Australian recruitment processes and require more support compared to their domestic counterparts during the application and interview stage. The Peer Mentoring Program will assist in addressing some of the barriers by providing additional support during students’ preparations.
Due to the perceived challenges that hosting an international student may pose (particularly from new hosts), there continues to be a bias towards taking domestic students over international students. However, the University of Newcastle is working to increase the visibility and highlight the unique benefits of an international student’s perspective, experience, language skills and market knowledge by showcasing some of the success stories from the Upskill Through WIL project with key networks such as the Hunter Business Chamber. The University of Newcastle will continue to roll out the online training resources with key partners and encourage more organisations and businesses in the Hunter to partner with the university in supporting international students to have work experience opportunities.
University of Newcastle website.