City of Melbourne Future Focus Forum 2016
How can students best prepare for the future of work? © Trinh Le

Thinking about your future isn’t an easy task but for the students who attended this year’s Melbourne International Student Conference, they were asked to do just that and more.

The centrepiece event of the conference’s first day, the Future Focus Forum, was an integral part in challenging students to think cirtically and develop the skills and knowledge necessary in order to gain an advantage in the workforce of tomorrow.

We break down the Future Focus Forum and share the the lessons learnt across all the panels, workshops and discussions at the forum.

Andrew Purchas on the Australian job market

Andrew Purchas from Grad Connection opened the Future Focus Forum with some insightful data: Only 20 per cent of graduate jobs in Australia are provided by large graduate programs.

These programs have long been regarded as a popular pathway for final year students or fresh graduates looking to enter the job market. This was, however, no longer the case.

As for international students, the bigger picture was not very bright: Only 17 per cent of Australian employers accept international student applications, and only 1 per cent of hires at large graduate programs are international students.

Having said that, there are more job opportunities out there – as long as you look outside the box. Mr Purchas had two pieces of advice for international students:

  1. Don’t remove yourself from an industry, or limit yourself by location. In the age of digital disruption, an IT student could work in banking, or a media student could open their own e-commerce business.
  2. Don’t just look for jobs in Australia, but open to the larger global market. Expand your job seeking to Asia-Pacific, North America, or wherever the economy is booming.

However, if you really love Australia, here are other options for you: Look for international student employers, stream-based domestic programs, or Australian small and medium enterprises.

Maggie Hill on “the new work order”

Maggie Hill from the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) believed that young people were kind and positive yet many are either underemployed or unemployed entirely and, thus, increases their reliance on parents.

According to the organisation’s “The New Work Order” report, 70 per cent of young people in Australia currently enter the workforce in jobs that will be affected by automation.

To successfully compete with machinery, students need to equip themselves with enterprise skills, such as digital literacy, critical thinking, creativity, and presentation skills. Wages were also reportedly higher for students who possess those skills.

And the best way to prepare for the future of work is to embed these skills in education and get it right from the start.

The report also expected more than half of the Australian workforce “will need to be able to use, configure or build digital systems in the next 2-3 years.”

The delegate panel provided an array of perspectives

Being a “temporary student”, PhD student Xinyu Zhao finds it difficult to secure a job in Australia, since few employers are willing to take a chance on those who are not an Australian resident or PR.

But as the student panel suggested, in a global market, being an international student can be an advantage as you can bring your cultural competency to the table.

The diversity of the international student community can definitely teach you certain enterprising skills. So make the most of the opportunities while you’re here.

“Being in a foreign country can really push you, and that is the opportunity for growth,” says PhD scholar Michelle O’Toole.

And remember: Reaching out can be hard, but it’s important! Get on LinkedIn and talk to people can help broaden your network — it may even bring you opportunities you never thought possible.

The industry panel, on the other hand, suggested the most important question in a student’s job-hunting quest should be, “If you’re an employer, would you hire yourself?”

Again, there are challenges about being an international student, and there are certain things that you can’t change. But you can build your skills, gain insights about the workforce, and make use of the available resources, such as Study Melbourne and its Student Centre.

Open space sessions explored student issues and concerns

Conference participants also had a chance to form groups and explore issues that they feel relevant to them in the open space sessions.

Meaning-driven work, inter-disciplinary learning, industrialisation and sustainability were among the topics being thoroughly discussed.

Some drops of wisdom overheard at these sessions:

“Take a moment to think about what you are learning and discovering. Don’t rush through your studies.”

“Being around others and having inter-disciplinary skills helps you grow. Our differences make us stronger.”

“If you feel compelled and passionate… even if your parents say no and society says no, the job for you is in your heart.”

“Don’t miss the opportunity to expose yourself to other opportunities outside your comfort zone.”

“The employer perspective hasn’t changed since the 1970s. If you have talent, and a passion – go for it!”

Trinh Le
First published on Meld Magazine, May 2016.

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