'Pride and Prejudice': The Increasing Competitiveness of Foreign Students
Foreign grads are hungrier than ever for coveted U.S. employment positions. With the issuance of both student and work visas now at an all-time high, entrepreneurs looking to hire talent have an abundance of choices. This past week, I again witnessed firsthand the increasing quality of non-U.S. students, even as their American counterparts face challenges in a competitive job market now, more than ever before.
For over a decade, I have taught week-long international entrepreneurship courses at different French universities. The class sizes are large and even more heterogeneous by nationality than are most similar cohorts in the United States. This year’s group of 60 was particularly well prepared and on their game regarding the competitive strategies of the companies and nations where they operate.
Michael Porter, the Five-Forces expert on competition, would be proud. I certainly was.
Ironically, most of these students had yet to visit the United States. Regardless of this fact, the traditional rule of engagement, whereby technology, and by extension, knowledge management, originates in the United States and gradually expands internationally, seemed no longer to apply. During a class break, I had no sooner posted an item on my blog using a French expression than a student sitting nearby used a LinkedIn post on her smartphone to gently suggest a grammatical change.
U.S. students are quick to embrace study-abroad programs, and while overseas, might even dabble with an internship. Few, however, take the plunge and sign longer-term, permanent employment contracts. This contrasts dramatically with Europeans, who after obtaining their degrees, are ready to move abroad at a moment’s notice. In fact, their bags are already packed -- whether as a hedge to the fledgling EU economy, or in search of comparatively higher-paying U.S. dollar positions.
So, what are the repercussions to U.S. entrepreneurs and American students in search of those same positions?
1. Repercussions to entrepreneurs
Truly robust business ideas are no longer confined to their own domestic markets, even at early developmental stages. In light of thin U.S. margins and a constantly shifting competitive landscape, why not foment a hedge market-type share from an idea's inception and embrace global business development?
If you believe in the adage, “There’s no substitute for local market knowledge,” you’ll have the pick of the litter in terms of young, energetic international minds. What these young grads lack in actual work experience, they more than compensate for with native language fluency and the millennial perspective.
I’m the first to admit that employing non-Americans can be complicated and expensive. It’s particularly galling when someone forsakes your generosity by indifferently moving to another employer with essentially your work visa in hand, or else opts to return home prematurely, having “checked off” the American work box.
But this past week, in person, I witnessed true sincerity and many positive attitudes. Suffice it to say that these grads will really want the job you have available -- and not just for a short-term stay.
2. Repercussions to U.S. business students
Don’t despair. Your hard work here at home won’t be auctioned to the lowest bidder; and in a perfect world, everyone is competing for different types of jobs, anyway. So, treat the inroads of foreign students as you would a corporate-strategy class case study. Even though it’s your career, strip away emotion and look at this objectively.
When a new entrant comes on to the market, the incumbents don’t fold up their tents and roll over. They return to the drawing board and find new ways to remain profitable, relevant and able to offer value add. Nothing in business is on cruise control, anyway, and we all know that creativity over the long term is usually well rewarded. Take solace in knowing we’re the world’s No. 1 economy and have terrific jobs.
I will concede that there is clearly more competition than ever before in today’s job market. But much of that is due to the U.S. baby boomers' offspring than it is international competition. Seek out skills that will further make you unique and that others can’t duplicate with a similar amount of effort.
Embrace experiential learning opportunities, honing your practical skills in an industry that truly interests you. Use any free time to complete academic year internships and provide local, prospective employers with a chance to see you in action over a period of several months. Volunteer for extra projects, even if you’re not getting paid, so your future bosses can see your positive attitude shine.
Particularly noteworthy from this past trip was the opportunity to see my French students positively deal with the Paris tragedy. They moved from being scared and concerned, to visibly angry, and now have a new-found resolve to make the world a better place. Many of their European compatriots share the same sentiment.
Being an American and native Bostonian, I unfortunately understand where they’re coming from, considering my own observations of 9/11 and the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
In the end, pride and prejudice should remain within the confines of Jane Austen’s seminal work. There’s no reason why we entrepreneurs and passionate students worldwide can’t all have our croissants and eat them, too.