(No) Chances for International Students?

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Today, as it is, from craftsmen to academics, qualified and skilled labor is lacking in Germany. And the volume of the workforce will decrease even further once the generation of the so-called “baby boomers” will have reached retirement age within the next 10 to 15 years. Experts have calculated that Germany needs more than half a million immigrants annually to compensate for the lack of skilled labor – and to keep the welfare system up and running.

The “ideal immigrant” in the sense of the German labor market is an international student: In most cases, international students are highly qualified, in addition to their native language usually speak at least English and have acquired an above-average cultural understanding at an early stage of their live. And Germany, above all, is a popular location to study for students from all over the world.

At first, this may sound like a perfect symbiosis between international students, German universities and the German labor market. But the problem is: Although two thirds of the international students would like to stay and work in Germany, most of them leave the country after completing their studies. The main reason: They struggle and fail at the transition between studying and professional life. This is what has been revealed in a recent survey that was conducted by the Research Department of the Council of Experts for Integration and Migration of German Foundations (Sachverständigenrat deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und Migration (SVR)).

International students in German – rising numbers

At present, approximately 218,000 international students are enrolled at German universities (as of the 2013/14 winter term). By the year 2020, roughly 240,000 international students will have graduated and completed their studies in Germany. These figures reflect a trend: German universities have become ever more popular with international students in recent years, and with rising tendency.

After successfully graduation, Germany grants the international students rather generous opportunities to obtain a legal working status: Graduates have 18 months to either find a regular employment or self-employed work. Even open and tolerant Sweden grants only six months, for example.

Multiple reasons for failing

Nevertheless, 30 percent of the international graduates are searching for work for at least one year. The study concludes that in more than two thirds of the cases, a lacking command of the German language is the main reason that the newly qualified academics cannot find employment. This is in line with my own everyday observations as the manager of the Career Center at Munich Business School. In business fields such as sales or marketing, where solid command of the German language is essential, international students have difficulties to find jobs.

However, there are easy ways to counter or circumvent the language barriers. To optimize the linguistic competencies of our international students, MBS offers German courses throughout the entire semester. In the periods without lectures, intensive courses are scheduled.

Support from the very first semester

Following insufficient command of the German language as a reason for failing at the transition into professional life, the lack of experience and knowledge of the German labor market is the second most important cause, the survey says. It starts with the application procedure: How to submit a proper application in Germany? What formalities to consider?

The study criticizes that universities – through their career centers and international offices – indeed do offer support, but in most cases only at the end of the study program and rarely tailored to the needs of international graduates. I share this criticism and I am convinced: These students need individual support from the very beginning and over the entire stretch of their studies. This is the only way to enable them to gain valuable experience – and acquire a confident attitude towards employers. This, for example, can be achieved by application trainings, coaching and practical training terms preparing the students to professional life, which then, as a result, open the door to practical career-optimizing training terms. Optionally, we offer customized coaching to our students that takes into account their personalities, origin and cultural background.

Fear of contact on the employers’ side

Another factor making entry into professional life difficult for international students in Germany is the fact that some employers hold reservations. While large companies have developed specific routines to actively address international graduates, mainly small and medium-sized companies often have a hard time doing so. They rarely have any experience how to approach these “ideal immigrants”: How to address them? What matters to them when they choose a career? In addition, these companies often do not have sufficient information regarding legal requirements and fear additional administrative effort, if they hire an international graduate.

In this respect, it is the task of the Career Center, to not only establish the contacts with the companies, but also to reduce reservations and provide information. I always specifically ask the companies’ representatives if there are job opportunities for non-German speaking graduates in particular. This is how our comprehensive network has emerged that now enables us to offer our students specific contacts directly at the University’s location. I believe this is very important, because not even one third of the German universities maintain contacts with local or regional companies.

In addition, recruiting events give international students the opportunity to set up an absolutely necessary and comprehensive professional network – during their studies already. This doesn’t seem to be any matter of course, because the survey comes to the conclusion that this is exactly what international students in Germany are frequently lacking.

Job finder networks

This brings me directly to the next issue: The personal networks of the international students, namely the networks with other students and professors, are often insufficient. Regarding this problem, the status of MBS as a private university with small student numbers, regular team work in international groups and direct contact to professors is very helpful for our internationals. That students are in close contact with each other has the effect of a large family which, in turn, is the basis for a vivid and regular exchange. To optimize the quality of this setting, I consider it an important task of a career center, to bring together the international students with practical experience in Germany with students who have not (yet) had this experience but could well benefit from them.

Another important network is the international alumni network. I find it surprising and almost incomprehensible that – according to the study – 64 percent of the universities do not use their alumni contacts to support their international students. As a matter of fact, alumni are an important resource pool for internationals: They know the circumstances of the specific university, often remember their own difficulties during the transition into professional life and thus can pass on important tips and experience to subsequent student generations. It even happens frequently that alumni who have successfully mastered the transition to the German labor market communicate suitable vacancies in their company to the Career Center.

It is obvious that there is no lack of possibilities to pave the way into the professional world for international students. It always makes me glad to be able to support one of our international students to successfully master the transition from studying into professional life.

Matthias Flakowski
About Matthias Flakowski 4 Articles
Matthias Flakowski is Head of Career Center and responsible for company cooperations at MBS. He is the link between students, companies and lecturers in knowledge transfer, recruiting and employer branding.Matthias Flakowski has several years of experience in the education sector, especially in application management in close collaboration with companies. As a certified Business Coach (CRQ) he supports MBS students and graduates by offering application trainings, the MBS Future Step program as well as individual coaching sessions. In addition, he provides companies with the opportunity to get in touch with MBS students and graduates by organizing guest lectures, recruiting events, the MBS job portal and the annual MBS Graduate Book.
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