/ga/file/long-duration-learning-mobilityLong duration learning mobility
In June 2018 members of the UK ECVET Expert Team helped stakeholders involved in VET mobility to identify the challenges and solutions related to long-duration learning mobility, a goal of the Erasmus+ programme. EPALE Thematic Coordinator Andrew McCoshan helped deliver the workshop and reports on the key outcomes related to learners and employers.
It is increasingly common for young people to spend time abroad either as part of an apprenticeship or vocational training programme or to have recently graduated from one. Thus far, most of these periods have consisted of several days or at most 2–3 weeks or so. However, over the next few years Erasmus+ will be providing co-funding for longer-duration mobility periods running to several months.
Such longer periods of mobility offer the chance for learners to develop skills in greater depth and/or cover a wide range of competences. For employers, sending apprentices/learners abroad offers a greater return on their investment, whilst employers who receive learners stand to benefit in terms of new ideas, improvements to workplace practices and enhanced intercultural understanding amongst existing employees. But longer periods abroad also raise challenges. What are they and how can they be addressed?
Learners’ challenges – it is not just about the workplace!
From an educational perspective, issues of concern for learners are likely to involve how to have skills identified and validated effectively. This may be significant not just for vocational skills but also for soft skills. Challenges may also surround the increased amount of paperwork involved in gathering evidence for validation. Learners will require support to do this and this may be more difficult for them to access.
But many challenges learners may face are likely to centre around other issues such as financial concerns. Learners who have part-time jobs may need to give them up, so an important question will be whether they can afford to do so. There are also questions about how to manage money in general (for some learners this may be their first time away from home) and in particular how to deal with expenses abroad.
There will also be personal issues to deal with. Background personal issues might be thrown into sharper relief by long-duration mobility. If someone has been unable to find a job at home, their self-confidence may be very low. Such factors can be important given that long-duration mobility is likely to push them beyond their comfort zones much more than short-duration mobility.
For all learners, language fears, culture shock and missing the small things of home are likely to be significant factors – ‘how does the dishwasher work?’, ‘who will do my washing?!’. From a young person’s perspective, 2–3 months may feel like a very long time indeed. Loneliness may also be a problem.
However, all of these ‘grey skies’ of challenges have ‘silver linings’. First and foremost, all of the challenges just listed also throw up opportunities for learners to develop new soft/transversal skills alongside the vocational skills they may acquire. We need to make sure we design systems to capture and validate these skills, a point to which we return below.
Employers’ challenges – what’s the added value?
Employers may face challenges as both senders and receivers of learners. As sending organisations, employers may question the value of paying for an employee who is away for so long and of finding cover for them whilst they are away. They may also raise questions regarding the quality of the work-based experience that the learner will receive when abroad.
There are also issues related to finding a reasonably good fit in terms of what a learner will be able to learn when abroad and how this meshes with what they will learn at home, and when they will learn it. Such sequencing is a more significant issue when it comes to long-duration ability.
The quality of skill assessment processes may also be a concern: can employers have the same trust in these processes carried out abroad as they have when they are carried out at home?
Many of these issues will also be relevant to employers receiving learners from abroad. But there are also other issues. Employers will be concerned about the quality of the learners they receive and will need reassurance that strong selection procedures are in place. They will also have questions regarding the level of pastoral care that they might be expected to provide, especially when this is ‘out of hours’. And there is the important issue of health and safety, insurance and safeguarding to be considered as well.
Meeting the challenges
Such challenges may seem daunting but there are solutions. Stakeholders at the workshop formulated a range of ideas:
- Promote the added value of long-duration compared to short-duration mobility to both learners and employers
- Put in place mechanisms to identify the specific needs and situations of participants and ensure pastoral support is in place to meet them, as well as specific measures such as funding provision for return trips home during the mobility period
- Consider (and allow for) employer participation in advance planning visits to the hosting country
- Involve employers and learners, as well as VET providers, in co-creating systems and procedures for documenting learning to build trust and acceptance of validation procedures
- Consider developing a free-standing module on international work experience, specifically encompassing soft/transversal skills.
There are also organisations all over Europe with the experience of successfully implementing long-duration mobility, often for groups of people who might require considerable support. For instance, organisations in Spain and Germany have successfully implemented long-duration mobility opportunities for single parents. These organisations are part of a European Social Fund network and its manual of guidance has many useful insights about how to deal with the sorts of questions raised above.
Andrew McCoshan has worked in education and training for over 30 years. For more than 15 years he has conducted studies and evaluations for the EU, and before that was a consultant in the UK. Andrew is currently a member of the UK ECVET Expert Team, an independent researcher and consultant, and Senior Research Associate at the Educational Disadvantage Centre at Dublin City University in Ireland.