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Monique Gunn - Working Solutions Coordinator, University of Technology, Sydney

Monique Gunn
'The international students gain a real understanding of different cultures. They're immersing themselves and all their senses in a new culture by working in a foreign country. It's a huge experience!'

Monique is the coordinator for the University of Technology, Sydney's Working Solutions program – a work placement program, which aims to enhance the experiences of international students and improve their chances of employment.

With a background in career services, it seemed a natural progression for her to move into the role of placement coordinator helping international students gain work experience in the Australian workforce.

How did the Working Solutions program come about?

The Working Solutions program was developed to assist International Postgraduate MBA Professional Accounting students gain work experience. Many international students were being turned away by employers who said the students were over qualified, lacked local work experience, or had limited communication skills. I was working in the UTS Career Services when the idea came about and was approached to become the program coordinator.

How does the program work?

It works like a screening process. International MBA students subscribe to the program. They are then contacted by email when there is a Working Solutions opportunity. The students then send their application for me to look over and I call the student in to interview them. I will then recommend suitable students to the company, and the company will interview the recommended students. Students can apply to do more than one placement if they choose to.

The number of students involved in the program varies throughout the year. It really depends on the company and the work they're doing. Last year, we placed 42 students.

What is your role as coordinator?

Other than screening the students and monitoring the placements, my role includes going out and finding potential companies to join the program. I need to match the skills of the students to the company's requirements and selection criteria.

What requirements do students have to meet in order to obtain a placement in the program?

Generally the program is for International MBA Professional Accounting students, but we have occasionally offered opportunities to postgraduate students undertaking a finance major.

To be selected for a placement, the students needs to be fluent with English, achieving a level 7.0 in all four components of IELTS, and also be motivated to do work experience.

What types of placements or internships are generally offered to students in the program?

We have an internship placement and a project-based teamwork placement. Both are usually unpaid and run for a minium of 10 days. A project-based teamwork placement is when a number of students are selected for a particular project that the host organisation is doing. The students usually work with the organisation until the job is done which usually takes a couple of weeks. An internship placement is like work experience and might run for several months.

The hours can vary but, under a student visa, international students can undertake up to 20 hours of paid and unpaid work during semester and work full-time outside of semester. Some students have actually been offered paid work once their internship has been completed   which is great!

What type of work do the students do in their placements?

A whole range of things   some students work in administration, others do things like bank reconciliation and accounts payable. What they do largely depends on what organisation we put them in. Some students are placed with large organisations, others with mid-size firms and other students are placed with not-for-profit organisations.

What potential limitations do these students face studying or working in Australia?

Until recently, professional employment opportunities for international students were quite limited. Changes to immigration law means that there are now a small but growing number of organisations that accept applications from international students.

If an international student is looking to gain a graduate job, it's probably best to check out a company's website to see the type of graduates those companies are looking for, and if they recruit international students.

What have students said about their placement experience?

All of them gain something from the program   from developing their communication and professional skills to understanding workplace culture. The most important thing is that they explore a range of career options. So if they are placed with the tax department of an organisation, for example, they can start to think about whether this career is for them.

What has been your most difficult experience as coordinator?

It's a new program so it has been difficult to gain the attention of prospective employers. But it's encouraging that the majority of employers that use the program are so impressed after the first placement that they take on more students.

What has been one of the highlights since you started as coordinator?

The first time a student was offered full-time paid employment because of the program. I was getting calls from both the student and the host company about the job offer.

What do you think international students gain most from studying and working in Australia?

The international students gain a real understanding of different cultures. They're immersing themselves and all their senses in a new culture by working in a foreign country. It's a huge experience!

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