Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The interest is there, but are the jobs?

I can certainly attest to the fact that there's a tremendous interest among students and recent graduates in the possibilities of working abroad. And more than a few articles in some of the larger papers have noted -- and perhaps inasmuch -- encouraged the trend.

USA Today published a piece back in November 2009 titled "More U.S. job hunters look for work in other countries" which set me to thinking.

I mean, the obvious question is: more job seekers may be looking abroad, but are they finding opportunities? And are they finding opportunities that are available to them, considering the numerous and often seemingly (if not ultimately) insurmountable hurdles that come with lining up all the necessary paperwork -- visa, work & residency permits, etc -- to finalize that placement?

That goes unanswered in this piece -- with the exception of the far too blithely asserted "more Americans are hunting for, and landing, work overseas." In fact, success (in finding work) isn't even addressed. And look closely at the language used: "Fifty-four percent of executives said they'd be likely or highly likely to accept a foreign post" and "Contact Singapore, which recruits executives in that country, says it's seeking "global talent to help foster innovation" for fields such as digital games."

Executives. Okay... So is that the demographic addressed by the article? No, not necessarily.

The article concludes with a consideration of "Charles Wang, an industrial engineering major [at Georgia Tech who] worked as a project manager for United Parcel Service in Dubai from July 2008 until last May." Wow!!

Okay... (again) but what the article fails to note is that Georgia Tech has one of the most extensive and long-standing internship and international placement programs in the form of its Division of Professional Practice.

More recently, the Chicago Tribune had a piece titled "Americans chase internships abroad as a gateway to work" (1 February 2010). This piece seems more balanced on the whole, offering both success stories and those of folks still struggling -- and finding that the much vaunted "cross cultural competence" isn't paying off with a flood of job offers.

But here too there are artful omissions, such as the fact that the majority of international internship placements that are "available" (that is, searchable by a general audience of students, recent graduates, or anyone for that matter) are connected either to an educational institution & study abroad program (such as Northeastern University's coop program) or set-up through a third-party provider (such as MASA Israel). Sometimes a combination of both.

Hardly direct placement. Hardly accessible to most (in the case of the latter more often than not simply due to cost considerations).

I feel like such a curmudgeon writing this, but it's important to me that the students who come see me get a realistic assessment not just of what's possible but what's likely and what's widely available. Desire, interest, and hopes don't readily translate into a paid placement abroad -- which is too often the sense that I get from these sorts of articles.

I am a big proponent of blue sky thinking: let's focus on what it is you want to accomplish, all things being equal and setting aside financial limitations for a moment. But that's just the first step, because it's from these dreams that we begin to get focused, set personal priorities, and start the hard work of finding what can be expected, what can be hoped for, and what might be the best fit.

Too much to ask for from a newspaper article, I know, but I do wish for a bit more nuance in these sorts of pieces. I think everyone would benefit from a bit more nuanced presentation of the very seductive dream, and realities, not just of working abroad, but of working hard at finding work abroad.

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