Why Chinese and Australian students differ on the workplace skills that matter

20 August 2021
No 'one size fits all' approach to industry placements
Australian students gained more skills in networking compared to Chinese students who increased their skills in communication and teamwork, during work-integrated learning programs, according to a new report by the University of Sydney Business School.

Released today, the report was co-authored by Associate Professor Rachael Hains-Wesson and involved a survey of over 300 students about their experience of work-integrated learning.

Work-integrated learning is a teaching and learning framework that helps student develop key employability skills. It is characterised by three main stakeholders including the student, university and workplace.

“Our research shows significant differences between the two cohorts. Our Chinese students were more likely to gain communication and teamwork skills from work-integrated learning while Australian domestic students were more likely to gain presentation and networking skills.

“We also found stark differences between the skills both cohorts value, which could have a lot to do with the different cultures and education systems that they inhabit,” Dr Hains-Wesson, Director of Work-Integrated Learning, said.

Two students participating in the Job Smart Edge program at Thread Together, a not-for-profit based in in Sydney during Semester 1, 2019.

The White Paper for Australian and Chinese Employability Professionals (pdf, 7.2MB) was co-authored by Dr Kaiying Ji from the University of Sydney and former Associate Professor Bing Wu Berberich from the Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University International Business School.

They found that graduate employment in China is becoming more competitive and that international students who participate in work-integrated learning programs could have an edge over other graduates.

“The global job market for our graduates is incredibly competitive and has become even more volatile and uncertain since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr Hains-Wesson explained.

“With this report, we can now prove a clear connection between work-integrated learning experiences and securing full-time employment; the proportion of students in full-time jobs was five percent higher for those who had completed the program compared to those who did not.

“There is also a connection to student satisfaction with their degree. Those who rated their degree as ‘excellent’ or ‘outstanding’ were eight percent higher when they participated in work-integrated learning. This is why these sorts of programs need to be integrated in the course curriculum, not just offered by extra-curricular activities.”

There must be a tailored approach taken by each university to understand each cohort of students and what they want to get out of an industry placement.
Associate Professor Rachael Hains-Wesson

However, the researchers say there are different cultural contexts that universities must consider. For example, the Australian labour force tends to focus on critical thinking and analytical skills, while China’s employment market demands more leadership and social influence from graduates.

The research team saw these differences highlighted in the sorts of skills graduates valued from work-integrate learning opportunities which included industry placements, study tours and online offerings.

The white paper makes a series of recommendations for the university, governments and industry sectors to collaborate and scaleup opportunities for students.

“One of our key recommendations is that there can’t be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to work-integrated learning. There must be a tailored approach taken by each university to understand each cohort of students and what they want to get out of an industry placement,” said Dr Hains-Wesson.

“In saying that, we also need more robust discussion and knowledge sharing between universities, government, community members and industry to broaden the number of work-integrated learning opportunities for our students.”

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