Educators Discuss How to Meet Demand for International Workforce

Educators Discuss How to Meet Demand for International Workforce

Chancellor Gene Block and NAFSA Executive Director and CEO Marlene Johnson discuss international education at a symposium in Korn Convocation Hall.

UCLA plays host to education and business symposium on the value of foreign students, study abroad, and an international curriculum.

"One of the things we look for in American applicants particularly is work-study abroad," said a representative from Google.

UCLA Today

THE IMPORTANCE of educating an international workforce to accommodate a global market that is anxious to find and employ young people who are mobile, multilingual and open-minded was a mantra that was heard repeatedly at a symposium held Oct. 23 at UCLA by the largest nonprofit association in international education, NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

Chancellor Gene Block and representatives from other higher educational institutions, as well as business leaders in California, came together at Korn Convocation Hall to discuss how students can be better prepared for the global labor market in the midst of a worldwide economic crisis.

"Especially in the slump we're in now, we recognize that the competitiveness of the United States is dependent upon our ability to effectively work in a global market," said Block. Foreign students contributed more than $2 billion to California's economy in 2006–07, the latest academic year on record, he pointed out.

"This is not a trivial input," Block said.

At a time of increasing competition for foreign students, UCLA consistently ranks in the top 10 of U.S. colleges and universities in both the numbers of foreign students it attracts and the numbers of American students it sends abroad. The campus was honored by NAFSA three years ago for successes in internationalizing the curriculum.

Still, Block acknowledged, universities in Europe and Asia are now doing a better job than U.S. campuses in attracting students from abroad.

In a policy paper recommended by NAFSA Executive Director and CEO Marlene Johnson, the association blames the trend on disorganized or overly stringent post-9/11 security measures, including name checks that can hold up visa applications indefinitely. The consequence -- sending legitimate visitors off to develop relationships with other countries instead of the United States -- carries security costs of its own, NAFSA argues.

At the symposium, CSU Northridge President Jolene Koester and Santa Monica College President Chui Tsang urged educators to take advantage of the diversity that already exists on campuses in the state to promote cross-cultural communication.

Tsang observed that lower-income students who graduate have a lot to offer global employers because they already know how to communicate across social and cultural divides. The label affixed to many of these students as English language learners in California's public schools conceals their real strengths, he noted.

"That means they speak another language at home, and that other language actually will be very helpful to them," he said, in the global market.

Yvonne Agyei, director of talent and outreach programs for Google at its Bay-area headquarters, said that she works closely with colleagues based in China and India to recruit employees in dozens of countries. The company, she said, is not merely promoting diversity, but needs an open-minded, mobile, and multilingual workforce in order to function.

"One of the things we look for in American applicants particularly is work-study abroad," she said.

Marilyn Mackes, executive director of the National Association of Colleges and Employers; Carlos Valderrama, director of Latin American Operations for the law firm Musick, Peeler & Garrett; and AECOM Strategic Development leader Jack Baylis talked about ways to link the supply of trained individuals more closely with employers' demands.
While training more scientists and engineers, American colleges and universities need to focus more on language teaching as well, Valderrama said. Even more broadly, America also needs to rebuild its global reputation. In Latin America, he warned, "anti-American sentiment … is directed towards our government."

Published: Tuesday, October 28, 2008