Dec. 6, 2016

Making the Transition to Employment

Improving counselling and career advising for international post-secondary students

International students make important contributions to their host institutions and to Canada’s economy and workforce, both during their studies and as potential skilled immigrants. Beyond tuition revenue, these students help promote international partnerships, provide contacts for future recruitment, and help expand the scope of curricula to better reflect a globalized world. International students also can help local students to foster cross-cultural competencies. With a high portion of international students wishing to remain in their host country after graduation, helping these students navigate the challenges to achieve their goals for immigration and career development becomes an important task for university faculty, counsellors and advisors.

Leveraging Skills

With little research available to help university personnel better support international students in this important decision, Dr. Nancy Arthur and her colleagues investigated factors related to the students’ transition from university study to finding employment. The studies found that while the international students bring meaningful experience, knowledge, and skills from their home countries, they often struggle to leverage these in starting a career in Canada.

The participants often attributed their struggle to a lack of Canadian work experience, citizenship status, connections to employers, and concerns about their language abilities. The participants reported not having a concrete plan for obtaining employment, and recognized that taking advantage of different services to build networks and work experience during their studies would have been beneficial.

These services also depend on helping the students explore their goals for employment, immigration, and family life, as well as their concerns and challenges associated with these aspirations. Cultural differences and insufficient language proficiency are also commonly identified barriers for international students, thus, these services must also connect students to opportunities to increase their language skills and reduce fears around conversing in English.

Opening Doors to Employment

Thus, beyond welcoming international students, it is essential that universities provide resources and career services that help students gain work experience and this means proactively supporting these students in marketing their skills to employers. This may involve strengthening the programs, services, and activities that are intended for international students. Do services need to be customized for international students? Although international students may benefit from participating in general services offered to students on campus, specialized workshops in career services may be useful to understanding the nuanced aspects of local employment markets.  Resources and programs may include supports for:

  • Building professional networks
  • Meeting and marketing themselves to prospective employers
  • Obtaining local work experience
  • Representing technical and professional skills


Research can inform professional services. Dr. Arthur’s research has been circulated to members of a national organization who work in career services at universities and colleges. She has also worked closely with career services at the University to review the content of workshops offered to the university community. Dr. Arthur has consulted with policy makers in the federal government to determine how research can inform immigration policy involving international students.