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Alessandra Santoianni is a project officer and trainer for the Grenoble branch of CEMEA – a vocational education and training provider and promoter of progressive education. We asked Alessandra to tell us more about SAMIN, an international project she was involved in, dealing with helping migrants in VET.
Tell us about what you do
I am in charge of EU-funded projects for vocational education and training (VET), namely projects about exchanging practices, cooperation and intra-EU mobility. I am a trainer and I am also in charge of leading trainings in initial and continuous education both for youth workers and social work professionals. One of my other tasks is promoting the European Festival of Education-related Films (FEFE) at regional and local level.
What is the SAMIN project?
SAMIN started with the idea of expanding a previous project, initially tested in seven German cities, to the six participating countries. The project ran from 2013 to 2015, and was funded under the Transfer of Innovation action of the Lifelong Learning Programme.
It aimed to tackle exclusion, improve the quality of education services and bridge the gap between different stakeholders working on the access of vulnerable migrants to vocational education and training.
SAMIN involved six VET providers based in six countries: Berufsförderungsinstitut oberösterreich (Austria), CEMEA Rhône-Alpes (France), ESTA Bildungswerk (Germany), Centro per lo Sviluppo Creativo (Italy), Merseyside Expanding Horizons (United Kingdom) and the European Innovation Consultancy and Network (the Netherlands).
What were the main issues that you wanted to address?
The project aimed to improve the quality of education services through the empowerment of educators, trainers, teachers, social workers and other professionals that work on the socio-professional inclusion of vulnerable migrants.
The professionals working in the partner organisations had previously worked in education, psychological support or training and were aware of the needs of the VET sector from their work on the field. For example, one of the key issues identified was how to work within a partnership or how to communicate with different types of stakeholders.
Working on training in a structure that welcomes migrants often means working within a team that offers psychological, legal, housing or other types of support. In brief, the project’s stance is that in order to better meet migrants’ needs, it is necessary to work with different sectors and stakeholders while considering the migrants’ needs, migratory path and integration perspectives.
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What are the challenges of working with migrants?
From the perspective of a trainer, one of the main challenges is responding to migrants’ needs without applying a one-size-fits-all education approach. It is important to know how to adapt your supporting methods and tools, and how to address the person’s needs.
In order to improve migrants’ socio-professional inclusion, it is necessary to understand that vulnerability is a human condition; learners may have faced traumatic experiences in the recent past.
It is also important to help stakeholders understand migration and fight prejudice. This is one of the reasons why we wanted to help raise awareness about better intercultural communication.
In addition, adopting a holistic person-centred approach is quite challenging. Disadvantaged individuals face various difficulties (housing, health, education, validation of skills and diplomas, building new social relations etc.) and providing support in education means taking all these into account.
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Tell us about some of the outcomes from the SAMIN project
As a result we developed a new training material for EU and local level, improved existing training material, and developed training tools for a comparative analysis: a learning platform, a methodology handbook and a capacity building booklet. We also tested our training on about 200 people.
How has collaborating with partners in different countries helped you in your day-to-day work?
I’ve worked in multicultural teams both in my studies and in my previous jobs. I believe that working in such teams is extremely enriching, not only because of the knowledge you can acquire, but also from a human perspective.
I personally improved my management skills and I developed new management tools that are now used for other international projects in my organisation.
What I found particularly challenging was agreeing on a common understanding of certain notions and concepts, including the concept of migration for which we had to adopt a working definition for the project.
If it weren’t for SAMIN, I would have never got the chance to experience how different countries and organisations understand vocational education and training, and reflect upon how to foster European cooperation.