Focusing on two critical professional fields – health and early childhood education – this study provides key insights into language and cultural challenges facing overseas-trained professionals and international graduates making the transition into the Australian labour market.
Interviews in this study with employers, government organisations, industry associations, overseas-trained professionals and international graduates confirm that communication is at the heart of these professions. They highlight the complex, sophisticated language and communication skills required in workplaces that are often culturally very different from those previously experienced.
- English language competency is critical in determining successful labour market outcomes. Conversely, weak English language proficiency can have serious safety implications. Cultural factors and the nuances of social relationships also provide serious challenges.
- Universities are increasingly expected to ensure international students graduate with appropriate English language and communication skills.
- Most health sector employers in this study view the IELTS requirements for registration as appropriate, although some suggest that these could be even higher.
- Highly differentiated labour markets have developed in metropolitan and rural hospitals. For example, unlike metropolitan hospitals, shortages in rural areas have led to hospitals being staffed predominantly by international doctors and nurses.
- The introduction (in September 2015) of English language requirements for teachers in early childhood education was received positively by employers, further professionalising the sector.
- Although many early childhood sector employers value cultural diversity and see the need for strong English language skills, they have limited knowledge of IELTS requirements. The researchers recommend revisiting them once the impact of the changes has taken effect.
- Other challenges faced by overseas-trained professionals and international graduates in this study include workplace discrimination, isolation and extreme frustration when unable to work in their area of qualification.
Every year IDP Education and the British Council fund and support IELTS-related research that reflects current issues relating to the IELTS test in the international context. Such research makes an important contribution to the monitoring and test development process for IELTS; it also helps IELTS stakeholders to develop a greater understanding of the test.