New Programs and Initiatives: Professional Skills Development for International Students

by Lynn Walsh and Jennifer White

International students often have culturally different approaches to job search, and combined with language barriers, job search can be frustrating and cause anxiety. Providing adequate support to this population and fostering relationships for students with industry representatives and the employer community resulted in the creation of the Professional Skills Development Program at Memorial University.

Modeled after Memorial’s award-winning Arts Works program, the Professional Skills Development Program helps prepare international students for professional employment in Newfoundland and Labrador and throughout Canada. Including themes of communication, culture and career preparation as well as a volunteer component and two interactive networking opportunities, the program instills Canadian job search knowledge and preparation that assists students throughout their academic study and after graduation. Workshops focus on topics such as understanding cultural differences in the Canadian workplace, how to effectively network and secure contacts in the academic or non-academic arenas, and workplace etiquette.

Theory into Practice

What makes this new program unique is the application of networking knowledge over the ten-week period. Students are taken to two events to “get outside of their comfort zone”. They attend free of charge career fairs, tradeshows or planned employer information sessions where they are expected to introduce themselves and highlight their skills, knowledge and positive aspects to employers and community members. Several employment programs exist today for international students that provide relevant and accurate tips for networking or job searching, but not many incorporate actual events.

Along with seven in-class sessions and two networking opportunities, the program also incorporates a mandatory volunteer component. Program coordinators set up off-campus volunteer placements where students learn how North American employers perceive community involvement. They discover what is well received and beneficial when job searching and they diversify their skill sets. Through this experience, students also meet new people, get to know their community, and improve their oral communication skills.

Success Stories

The winter 2011 offering of the Professional Skills Development Program has just concluded and since the program launch in spring 2010, 93 students have received certificates of completion.

If they are new to Canada, many students find getting a first job difficult and some have a hard time competing with Newfoundland or Canadian students when vying for the same positions. The Professional Skills Development Program provides students an opportunity to perfect skills, develop networks and get hands-on experience during their time at Memorial. The importance of this program lies not only in its content but in the level of exposure to Canadian society that participants obtain.

It is extremely important in today’s job market to have effective self-marketing and job search skills when seeking employment. If students are to successfully compete in the current global economy and achieve their career goals then a sufficient grasp of workplace and professional language and experience is imperative.

If you would like further information on this exciting initiative please contact jwhite@mun.ca, lwalsh@mun.ca or visit PSDP online.

Lynn Walsh is currently Acting Manager with the Co-operative Education Services Centre at Memorial University, returning to her International Student Career Advising role July 2011. She has worked in the field of career development for over nine years, co-facilitates the Professional Skills Development Program and has worked on numerous career development initiatives, programming and services for the international student population on campus. She recently received the Graduate Student Engagement Program Award from CERIC.

Jennifer White completed her Bachelor of Science in 1993 with a major in psychology and minors in sociology and biology and eventually returned to academic studies full-time to complete a Master of Business Administration in 2000. After a variety of roles in private industry, her career path led her to work with non-profit organizations in the area of career development. Since December 2009 she worked for Memorial University in the role of Career Development Coordinator (Graduate Studies), a cross appointment with Career Development and Experiential Learning and the School of Graduate Studies.

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