International Working Opportunities
As alumni you may be considering whether to seek your first position locally or overseas - or perhaps take the plunge and use the qualifications and experiences that you already have in the workforce to further your career internationally.
- A Huge Range of Opportunities
- Kinds of Work Available
- Accessing Overseas Work Opportunities
- Where the Opportunities Are
- What Employers Are Looking For
- Benefits of Overseas Work Experience
There are many overseas opportunities for professional employment, particularly in professions experiencing skill shortages globally, such as teaching, accounting, finance, engineering, hospitality, medicine, nursing, the allied health professions and other specialist occupational areas. This has provided an ideal climate for many recent graduates to take their professional qualifications and experience overseas to develop their work skills, gain experience in their profession, travel for a few years ñ and even decide which career direction to pursue. The international experience gained by recent graduates can then be utilised in their employment upon returning to Australia. Another option for new graduates is to establish themselves in their profession by working in Australia before seeking opportunities to work internationally. Local work experience may enhance the range of employment opportunities available internationally.
Australian native English-speaking graduates from any discipline with a bachelors degree are in high demand overseas and can also teach English globally, particularly throughout Asia and the developing nations of the European Union.
Graduates can work overseas in paid or voluntary positions on a part-time, temporary or contract basis in order to gain international experience. Permanent positions are generally more difficult to find, as there are strict work visa restrictions for most non-residents. The range of international work options includes 'working holiday' schemes for those up to the age of 30, (Australia now has agreements with 17 countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, Japan, the Republic of Ireland, the Republic of Korea, Malta, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, Finland, the Republic of Cyprus, Italy and France).
Other employment options include international aid and development, internships, moving within an existing company to work overseas or applying for an international vacancy that is open to those without residency status. Most countries require workers to have residency status or employer sponsorship. Singapore is one country that offers opportunities for non-residents to attract international talent, as do other countries when they are unable to fill skilled professional positions with citizens from their own country.
When seeking employment opportunities internationally, be aware that many external factors will impact on the labour market of a country at any given time and will affect supply and demand in particular industries and the types of employment available. Employment trends also tend to be global, and many countries may experience skill shortages in similar areas, thereby opening up the international market.
- Apply for advertised international vacancies after conducting your own labour market research and implementing a range of job seeking strategies including searching for vacancies advertised on websites, in magazines and newspapers and making direct approaches to organisations. Networking is vital both before you leave home and upon arrival in your new country. Contact with other travellers and professional associations can provide opportunities and leads.
- A more certain option is to register with an established agency set up to assist with work experience overseas (often with a fee attached) such as International Exchange Programs (IEP), Council Exchanges, Southern Cross Cultural Exchanges, Australian Volunteers International, Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Program and United Nations Volunteers. Your work experience through these organisations will be confirmed prior to your departure.
- Register with a recruitment agency which seeks candidates globally. There is increased demand for candidates with particular professional qualifications in areas of skill shortage such as teaching, nursing, the allied health professions (eg. physiotherapy, social workers), administration, finance and accounting plus niche areas of specialisation that employers find difficult to fill. You may more successful with this method if you already have a few years work experience in Australia related to your profession. Available positions will often be temporary or contract. Recruitment agents will not look for employment opportunities for you, but work on behalf of employers, matching you to positions if you meet the employer's requirements.
- Obtain a transfer through your current employer, particularly if they are part of a large multinational organisation with international links. This option could be explored with your line manager and the Human Resources department as part of your performance review and career development. A transfer should provide longer-term work opportunities overseas and provide the experience to move into other international opportunities.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) estimated in August 2001 that 830,000 Australians were working overseas. More recent figures from a Victorian government inquiry quoted in The Age on 29 June 2004 stated that 'Victorians account for 350,000 of the 860,000 Australians believed to be living long-term or permanently outside the country and 265,000 short term'. With globalisation, an increasing proportion of Australian nationals are likely to work overseas, while larger numbers of foreign nationals also arrive to work in Australia. Managers, administrators and professionals make up 53.6% of this group (International Careers for Australians, Bryan Havenhand, March 2003).
In the UK...
The UK has the greatest number of Australians working overseas: one third of all expatriates, 75% of whom are aged 20ñ29. The second largest group is in Greece, followed by the US where young adults dominate. The US has no working holiday program, so those going there on a long-term basis need to qualify under work-related criteria for people already in the workforce or by obtaining a visa to work with approved American organisations such as the summer camps program or internships program for recent graduates. The fourth largest expatriate community, of 68,000, is in New Zealand.
The migration of Australians to Asia accounts for about one fifth of all those who have left Australia on a permanent and long-term basis over the last 5ñ6 years. The fifth largest community of overseas Australians is in Hong Kong (46,000), followed by Indonesia (12,000), Japan (10,651), Singapore (12,000) and Malaysia (4,700). Several developing countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia historically had not been able to produce sufficient numbers of skilled workers for their fast developing economies and have had to resort to employing expatriates. This need has fluctuated over the years as a result of various events impacting on Asia: the financial crises, September 11 and more recently the impact of the economic downturn of the US economy, followed by the SARS outbreak. Each Asian country's need for expatriates is also influenced by its level of educational offerings and subsequent ability to meet the needs of its labour market and economic growth.
As outlined in The Financial Review, May 2004, current demand for Australian workers is up about 25ñ30% across Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and the Philippines, compared with 2003, due to improvements in job markets across Asia. Large financial institutions based in Asia are tapping into the Australian market for finance/accounting and operations talent. Barclays Capital is establishing an international support hub in Singapore and is currently recruiting 30 Australians for both graduate and more experienced IT and finance roles.
KPMG research released in June 2004 identifies the Asia Pacific as a 'hot zone' for the global wealth management industry and the fastest growing market for wealth management and private banking. One third of 186 international wealth management institutions surveyed plan an acquisition in Asia within the next 3 years. People with experience in business development roles are in demand. Following the corporate scandals and collapses, senior positions in internal audit and risk management are also popular.
The Straits Times on 26 June 2004 reported that more job offers were being made to Singaporean talent for positions overseas. Interviews with five headhunters reported that there is a short supply of people at the senior management level for positions ranging from directors and general managers to operations specialists.
Big Singapore-based multinational companies looking to fill positions overseas are driving the demand for talent. Added to this demand are other businesses abroad keen to hire. Talent is needed across the industries from banking and manufacturing to fast-moving consumer goods, and across the world, in cities such as Shanghai, Sydney and Tokyo. This picture is very different from 3 years ago when hiring all but froze.
With improvements in the Asian economy, regional companies are willing to consider candidates from Singapore because they are in short supply of talent in their own countries. Mr. Shaun Goh, managing consultant of BTI executive search and selection firm said companies were hiring the best available talent to prepare themselves for an upsurge in the economy.
Professional accountants are in demand in Taipei, Bangkok and major Chinese cities. Banks and local wealth managers such as portfolio and fund managers are also in hot demand. Apart from these positions, jobs in general management, sales and marketing, retail and HR are also growing. There is also a demand for specialist positions in R&D for engineers and biotechnology professionals.
Mr Goh commented that 'the general perception is that Singaporean candidates have a high level of integrity, professionalism and exposure to "best-in-class" practices. They also have an edge in terms of presentation skills'.
Australians make attractive employees because of their education, their interest in spending a few years working overseas and their willingness to accept lower salary packages. As the overall job market in North Asia picks up, people from the UK and US have demanded very high salary packages compared with Australians' expectations.
Asian employers are particularly looking for people with an understanding of their culture and language which Australia's multicultural society is able to offer. While language skills are important in the lower, entry-level positions, they are less so higher up the corporate ladder.
There are also very good opportunities for international graduates who have completed their studies in Australia. Many multinational companies or organisations seek talented graduates with good English language skills in addition to speaking the local language - and very importantly who have local knowledge and networks. Employers also value their international experience and western education. Headhunters in Singapore, June 2004 reported that 'a strong academic background and well respected degrees are also pluses on the international stage'. Although the international exposure is not so critical in an entry level position, it becomes more valuable as you progress in your career and may open up opportunities to work in other countries.
World Class Talent
Despite the good news on opportunities, the labour market can be very competitive in the larger international cities such as Shanghai ñ so as a job seeker you will need to be able to differentiate yourself. In developing countries such as China which has experienced a huge growth in employment opportunities, the greatest demand is for graduates with work experience. With increased intakes in local universities, there are many talented fresh graduates but a lack of those with work experience and management skills. The greatest skill shortage tends to be for more experienced senior managers. However, as fresh graduates gain work experience there will be less demand for expatriates to fill these positions and companies will localise them.
Almost every developed world economy has a policy to attract world class talent. Despite its vast manpower resources and competitive labour market, Shanghai has granted permanent residency to 7,000 expatriates, and Singapore grants permanent residency to about 6,500 each year. There is also now a trend for older expatriates with big allowances to leave Singapore to be replaced by younger workers and singles, primarily Australians, on much cheaper packages (STAR, Kuala Lumpur, Jan. 2003).
In the 1990s there was a large influx of skilled foreigners, however during the economic downturn of the past few years this trend was reversed, with 27,000 professionals, accountants, financial experts, bankers, information technology professionals and senior managers leaving Singapore. (STAR, Jan. 2003) The trend to pay large expatriate packages has also diminished as local overseas-educated graduates return from Australia, the USA and UK to fill these positions ñ however this trend now appears to be reversing with a renewed demand for talent.
In the past, Asia has had a mismatch between the needs of the labour market and the output of the education system, which did not produce enough highly skilled people. The situation is now no longer as extreme, with increased intakes to Asian universities, many students studying internationally then returning to their home country, and a plethora of offshore university courses being offered in-country and producing many more graduates. The skill shortages are less prevalent for those fresh graduates with minimal work experience, however shortages still exist for the more experienced workers and senior managers. This situation is likely to continue as the Asian economy grows and develops, particularly in certain occupations.
It was reported by Hugo in Australians Moving Overseas 2003, that overseas work experience is very valuable for Australians in several ways:
- they return more experienced
- their international experience benefits Australian employers
seeking to compete in international markets
- they have substantial overseas networks and contacts, which
will assist their Australian employers to penetrate new overseas
- they may bring back capital investments from their larger
As Jeannie Zakharov says in her story in Working in London and the UK (published by Global Exchange): 'Working overseas takes you out of the familiar auto-drive of your life at home and this helps to develop twin strengths of resourcefulness and self reliance. Once you've got them, these qualities will stand you in good stead for life.'
Hugo's report also concluded that expatriates are ambassadors at large, who have helped to boost the value of our business and professional services exports, and are Australia's 'foot in the door' to the world's most dynamic markets, and a conduit for ideas and trends. He commented that without expatriates, Australia would be more insular and inward-looking, left behind by the forces driving globalisation and denied its benefits. Returning nationals also help to strengthen Australia's reputation as a diverse nation with an advanced economy.
Further information, specific articles and resources are available for downloading from the Careers & Employment website, including the following flyers:
- Work Travel and Play in the USA & UK
- Voluntary Work Overseas
- Careers in International Aid & Community Development
- Australian Recruitment Agencies & Consultants for Overseas Positions
- Global Career & Employment Websites
- Work Visa Contacts Around the World
- Teaching Overseas
Christine Enker, International Careers Consultant
© The University of Melbourne 2004