Our Wishlist for graduate employability in 2023!


Tune in to our last podcast episode for this year, as our CEO David Phua reflects on 2022 and calls out the key things we would like to see when it comes to graduate employability in 2023 and beyond.

This episode is not only interesting for our student audience, but also provides some food for thought to Australian businesses that are listening.


The recruitment market at the moment is challenging, and especially when it comes to graduate talent.

Gradability’s CEO sheds some light on:

  • What impact the extended lockdowns over the last 2 years have had on the higher education sector in Australia
  • Where the current challenges are for international students, and
  • Our wishes for 2023 to get the graduate recruitment market back on track and give international students a real chance at succeeding in their chosen careers in Australia


We will be back with Season 2 of The Employability Podcast after the break, when it’s time to bust some myths around internship programs from an employer’s perspective!


Happy Holidays and have a great start to 2023!


Prefer reading over listening? 


Here is the full transcript of today’s episode:

00:00 Dave: You’re listening to the Employability podcast, where graduation means employment. During this series, we uncover the good, the bad, and the ugly in terms of being more employable and ultimately getting hired.

Hard truths. No bullshit, no filters, just the information you really need to hear. Presented by Gradability.

We’re just about at the end of the year, so I thought for the final episode of this series, I’d take a bit of a look at 2023 and try to both crystal ball gaze, but also run through a bit of a wish list of things I’d like to see from a graduate employability perspective and in particular from international graduates’ point of view.

Now, there’s no getting away from the fact that the past three years have been challenging, particularly for the international higher education sector. We’ve had most of the country in lockdown for months at a stretch and almost two whole years here in Victoria.

01:05 And during that whole time, the border was closed, meaning we had virtually no new international entrants to the tertiary sector in Australia. As it does, however, the industry pivoted, and we did see students being allowed to commence their courses overseas.

But the sector most definitely took a hit. If you look at 2020, we saw a 22% decline in international student commencements in that year. 2021 saw an even bigger decline of 28% year on year, and that took us from a peak of just under 950,000 international students in 2019, down to just over 700,000 in 2021.

01:43 The opening of borders and easing of COVID-19 restrictions has seen a cautious uptick in 2022 commencements, with about 20% growth from 2021. But this still has the overall number of students enrolled hovering in the lowest 700,000.

And this is from high, as we said before, of about 950,000 in 2019. Now, on a positive note, while almost 25% of enrolled students were studying offshore in 2021, we now have that down to around 11%, which is great.

02:13 It means there’s more people in country. Concerningly, however, about 32% of the Chinese students enrolled in Australian courses are still studying offshore as a combination of tough COVID-19 measures and a challenging sociopolitical landscape continues to make that a challenging market.

And with that said, my wish number one for 2023 is to see a return of more Chinese students to Australia. China is our biggest trading partner, and there are clearly challenges with the relationship at a government level.

02:44 But China has traditionally been our largest source country for international students, and it still makes up about 25% of the international student cohort, yet a third of them aren’t in the country.

Let’s get them back in, which is beneficial both from an economic standpoint, but also because they do enrich and enhance the overall offering. Now, after a couple of pretty significant faux pas by the previous government of relation to international students in Australia at the start of the pandemic.

03:11 The government did make one welcome change, which was to allow international students to have unrestricted work rights while they’re studying their course. Now, this was a welcome reprieve for students and also significantly supported a struggling economy at the time.


With lockdowns and social restrictions now hopefully a thing of the past, we’re told that international students will return to being allowed to work only 40 hours per fortnight from July of next year. So, that’s gone from being unrestricted back down to what it used to be, which is 40 hours a fortnight.

03:39 Now, my personal opinion, this really should have been brought forward. I understand the need to give people time to adjust to a change, but with the announcement being made back in October, yes, surely it would have been sufficient notice to have it switched back at the start of the calendar year or worse, at the end of Q1.

Having a rule change only come in July is a really long time. And I think this issue has been exacerbated by the challenges that the Department of Home Affairs is having with visa processing for incoming students.

04:08 And this centers around concerns about legitimacy of a whole host of applicants on the basis that they aren’t genuine temporary entrants and students, that they’re exploiting this loophole and policy to enter on a student visa while they’re fully intending to work full time.

Now, look, I was an international student and I completely understand that most international students need to work to help support themselves and have some spending money as well. I worked as a kitchen hand during my time at Uni.

04:34 I worked in a glass factory to help support myself. But the unrestricted work rights rule as I see it is just too easy to exploit and it also exposes our students to the risk of exploitation by employers, by unscrupulous employers.

What I would like to see changed though is in the way work-integrated-learning or WIL is viewed. WIL programs should not have to count towards the 40 hours a fortnight if they are part of a course or program.

04:59 So, for the most part, WIL or internship programs are unpaid roles and there are role requirements that must be met by both the intern and the host employer. They should also be within the individual field of study and therefore relevant to it, partly because of the unpaid nature of it, but largely because it’s linked to a course of study that ultimately enhances the student’s prospects, it should be exempt from the work restrictions rule.

Now, there are caveats of course, checks and balances that need to be in place to protect the integrity of the program ram as well as the students undertaking them. It should be part of credited course, should be no longer than three months, and it has to be directly related to their field of study. And as I see it, those are givens.

05:39 Another change I’d be pushing for is for the system and pathways for skilled permanent migration to be opened up more fully again. Skilled migration over the past few years has stalled as the reality of COVID-19 hit. And while there has been some skilled migration, it has predominantly been in the healthcare sector or been directed towards regional Australia.

Now, while the regions do need skilled migrants, this shouldn’t be an either or scenario in my book, nor should skilled migration be as restricted as it has been over the past 36 months. Now, what’s this link to employability?

06:10 Talk to any number of businesses in Australia and they’ll tell you that they face a real challenge in sourcing graduate talent. This is especially pronounced in the accounting and tech sectors that Gradability largely operates in.

But I’ve spoken to many business owners around the country who are struggling to source and afford graduate talent regardless of sector. Meanwhile, we have graduate accountants and IT professionals switching to trades courses because those are the ones that currently lead to a migration outcome.

06:38 I fully understand switching courses because that’s what gives you the outcome. But think of the investment the person has put through, undertaking a course of study which they may have a very distinct interest in, but then switching it because that’s the opportunity that presents from a migration perspective.

Now, there is a school of thought that says international students get access to the poststudy graduate visa and that enables them to pursue a graduate role they could stay in for up to five years in some cases.

07:03 And while that’s true, think of it this way. Like if you come to Australia, you spend three years pursuing your degree and then you spend another four to five years working, that’s potentially eight years of your life in Australia, potentially more.

Almost definitely, that also relates to your entire adult life to that point. So, you come in when you’re about 18-19 and, you know, you leave at that point, you’re about 26, 27 your whole adult life encapsulates in that period.

07:29 Now, then imagine being told, sorry, your visa is no longer valid and you need to return home. Now, we’ve talked in previous episodes about the importance of international graduates adjusting to the Australian business culture and workplace, but the same works in reverse.

And if you’ve spent your entire adult life in one place, it’s actually quite difficult to go back home. And I know this because I did it. And I found myself struggling to readapt to life in my home country of Singapore when I attempted to, because all my terms of reference as an adult were Australian.

08:01 Whereas even in Singapore, which is a very westernized modern society, things are done extremely differently. What I’d like to see is the migration pathway opening up to skilled graduates and actually being used, not just having a quota that doesn’t all get used.

And the differentiation I’m making is that it’s graduate talent, not just highly experienced talent that seems to be the case in some sectors. Employers need access to graduate talent and there is a pool we aren’t fully accessing at the moment.

08:29 Which brings me to my next point. I’d like there to be more education for employers around the benefits of employing international student graduates and how they far outweigh the perceived risks. I was at two separate conferences in the past three months where employer groups were asked about whether they’d consider employing internationals, and I was both shocked and dismayed at the responses.

Now, one large employer group, and this was at an international education conference, no less, said, absolutely not, because they will just take your knowledge and leave. The 1980s called, they want their bigotry back.

09:02 In today’s market, I think most employers will be OK with it if a graduate stayed with them for 12 to 18 months, that will be pretty much par for the course. Two years and you’re laughing. Now, our experience shows that international graduates are incredibly loyal because they struggled so hard to get that first opportunity and want to repay their employer’s faith.

We find our graduates stay with us for over two years on average and are massive contributors. As I mentioned earlier, with the way the postgraduate visa works at the moment, a person can stay in the country and work for between three to five years upon completion of their course.

09:37 Now, that’s not insignificant, and it means that an employer can put in place programs to appropriately onboard and induct graduate talent while also putting effort into further development over that period.

Yes, there will be natural attrition. You get that in any case. And with employer sponsorship now back on the cards, with the potential for conversion to permanent residency, it’s something that actually helps attract and retain talent.

10:00 So, from an employer perspective, I’d like to see more education around, advocating for that and helping employers understand that there is a massive pool of talent there that we’re not necessarily accessing at the moment.

And what we’re doing at Gradability is to continue to advocate for this and promote international talent to employers. And what I’d like to see is more information being made in a ready and easy-to-digest format for employers, so they don’t have to scroll through complicated websites and consult multiple sources to realize they can tap into this market.

10:28 And what I will say is that if you are an employer listening to this and you are looking to employ international talent and you’re not sure how to do it, give us a call. Get in touch with us at www.gradability.com.au and we’re very happy to help walk you through that process and help you where needs be and put you in touch with anybody that needs to be put in touch with from a technical advice perspective.

And just to round things off, I would like to see more education providers recognize that they don’t have to do it all alone when it comes to providing support to students, whether they’re domestic or international, when it comes to employability solutions.

11:03 Now, don’t get me wrong, a lot of providers do this really well, but we’re here to help too, and we have reach and scale. Now, just on this, I attended a workshop on international student employability the other day, and there was a sentiment that providers can’t allow themselves to pay lip service to international student employability.

An example is given, whether in some cases, a short workshop or interaction with an employer will be classed as giving access to employability services and experiences, we need to build appropriately scaffolded employability programs throughout the lifecycle of the student.

11:35 This should be for both international and domestic students, recognizing that in some cases, more needs to be done to support international students. This isn’t easy, but it’s something we have to do.

So, there you go. That’s my wish list for next year. It’s not a massive list, but there are some pretty critical matters there that I think could make a big difference for the sector. Now, let’s make 2023 the year Australia gets back to the top of the tree in terms of international student offerings and employability.

This is the last episode of the inaugural season of the Employability podcast, and I’d like to thank you for listening. Whether you’ve jumped in on one episode, a few, or all ten. Now, we’ve tried our best to stay true to our theme of telling it like it is without any BS, and I hope you found these to be helpful.

Now, we’ll take a short break before returning in 2023 for season two. We will continue to have interesting and insightful guests talking about what you can do to enhance your employability while we’ll also start to look at it from an employer’s perspective and look at what they need to do to make sure they’re are putting their best foot forward to attract the right level of talent for their businesses and what talent is looking for in an employer.

12:42 Once again, thank you for listening. And remember, for all your employability needs, Gradability is here to help. You can find us on www.gradability.com.au. Until next time, remember, control the controllables.

You have been listening to the Employability podcast presented by Gradability. If you would like more information today’s topics, please check out the show notes or visit www.gradability.com.au. A reminder to subscribe to your favorite podcast app so you don’t miss an episode. I’m Dave Phua. Until next time, remember to control the controllables.



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