Workplace learning model for increasing the employability and securing jobs for difficult-to-employ adults
One of the greatest challenges in adult education is motivating the potential students to enrol. This is especially true when it comes to marginalized, difficult to employ groups, such as members of the Roma minority, returnees and other socially excluded groups. For eight years now, I’ve participated in door-to-door recruitment campaigns in Roma settlements with my colleagues from the School for Primary Education of Adults in Sombor, Serbia. The problems are complex, and seemed insurmountable to me when I first started. However, with experience, we’ve developed a number of quite efficient solutions.
The method I am going to describe here relies on the idea, the mind-set necessary for survival - which I have learned right there – in the Roma settlements: instead of focusing on the problems and obstacles – focus on finding solutions and ways to overcome and bypass those obstacles.
Workplace Learning requires partnerships between relevant stakeholders such as schools, employment institutions, social service centres and civil societies- in our case Roma NGOs and Associations. This model also requires enthusiasm, as well as know-how in applying for and implementation of EU funded grants. There are many such programs, and you need to know the eligible activities and expenses, as well as limitations listed in the guidelines of a specific call for proposals. It is always useful to have at least 20% contribution secured – for example from the Local Self-Government budget or other donors or sponsors. So let us go through the workplace learning activities:
Stage 1: Finding the Participants
Most of the adults from the difficult-to-employ groups are recipients of social welfare, and rely on that financial aid to survive. However, the welfare alone is not nearly enough to make ends meet, so most of adults work at temporary and occasional jobs as day-labourers, seasonal workers, most often without formal employment, insurance or benefits. Therein lies the greatest and most commonly identified obstacle which prevents them from attending school – if they attend classes, they cannot go to work and earn the money needed for tomorrow’s necessities of life.
The first part is getting to know the target group. We call this activity door-to-door campaign. The School staff and members of our partner Roma CSOs, in pairs, visit the settlements around the City of Sombor, and conducts surveys to identify potential students or participants in trainings. Even though we have lists with addresses and phone numbers – we don’t rely solely on them. The members of the target group often move and change mobile phone numbers – sometimes going completely off the grid. That is why we literally go door-to-door, interviewing everyone we meet. Individuals who never completed their primary education are encouraged to enrol in the School (the workplace learning projects finally gave us the response when they ask "what do I need school for?") and those who have at least primary education are surveyed and encouraged to participate in workplace learning - based trainings for existing jobs in demand.
Stage 2: Labour Market Study
In order to motivate the prospective students/trainees to even consider attending training, we need such jobs which offer financial compensation higher than what they already have.
We have formed partnerships with the Regional Chamber of Commerce of West Bačka District and General Association of Entrepreneurs Sombor. Together, we conduct a research of the jobs in demand, focusing on those jobs where the wages outweigh the financial aid from welfare and the per diems earned in non-formal, day labour employment. We also look for those jobs which do not take longer than three to four months to train for.
Now that everything is solved…more problems
The owners of private enterprises are very reluctant to train unskilled individuals. There are two main reasons: 1) they have no guarantee that, once they train someone, this person won’t go abroad to seek better paid employment and 2) the risk of work related injury is too great to take chances – the entrepreneurs are responsible for their employees, and in case of an injury – they face criminal charges and substantial financial penalties and damages.
We are proud of our solution of the first problem - instead of organizing the practical training as standard workplace learning – we secure subsidies for the employers – and the trainees sign service contracts, thus acquiring the right to get paid during the apprenticeship/practical training. The justification for this expense is that the trainees would not be able to participate, because they need to work to secure the money for basic needs. This way they attend trainings for existing, real jobs, with their actual employers, practicing at the same site/station/machine which is waiting for them once they complete the training – and they get paid for their contribution as apprentices/assistants/trainees.
To tackle the second issue, we regularly hire professionals to teach the basic (general) and specific protection at work (for particular jobs). Once the participants pass the tests, they receive certificates, which increases the employability of the participants and makes employers much more comfortable to train them for the jobs in demand, even if the jobs are in construction, metallurgy, forestry, chemical industry or other fields where there is an increased risk of injury.
Stage 3: the Trainings
The technology is developing at such a pace that formal education is simply unable to follow. In addition, the theoretical education outweighs the workplace learning so much that it is safe to say that the students have no idea what the actual jobs they studied for even look like, let alone how to perform them.
This is why we organize the trainings so that the ratio is 20-30% theory and 70-80% practical training. Furthermore, the training is not abstract, but conducted for and at the specific work sites and positions, with the employers who have expressed demand for those very specific jobs. This is encouraging for the prospective participants, as they know that they will get hired as soon as they complete their trainings. In addition, once someone completes such a training and becomes employed – the word quickly spreads throughout the settlements, and one example of good practice is worth more than hundreds of promises, ads or public announcements.
In our case, the entrepreneurs-prospective employers, supply us the required resources and materials for the theoretical part of the training for specific jobs in demand. We also cover the basics of entrepreneurship and hire professional agencies to conduct protection at work trainings during the theoretical part.
The next part is the most important one – workplace learning. Instead of letting students seek businesses willing to provide them practical training, we conduct a labour market research, and select those which meet all the requirements for successful and mutually beneficial trainings: short (2-4 months), practical trainings, for existing, well paid jobs, conducted by professional mentors.
You can adapt this model to suit the specifics of your local community, authorities etc. For example, the majority of our students are Roma men and women, but the same approach can be used for other vulnerable groups (pictured: I am teaching migrants from Syria and Iran the Basics of Quality Assurance in the Reception Center in Sombor).
If you lack the capacity to apply for EU funded projects, maybe you can secure the funds through Local Action Plans for employment and/or inclusion with your Local Self Government, sponsors or other sources. However, I strongly suggest you attend some of the many workshops and trainings organized by the Erasmus+ NSS in your country. In Serbia, our NSS is the Tempus Foundation. There you will learn how to apply for and implement projects. In addition, you will learn how to use online tools such as EPALE platform, where you can access a huge database of best practice examples, find partners from the entire EU, increase awareness and visibility of your solutions, and share your experience and ideas, thus contributing to the community. I hope you find this post helpful and I wish you best of luck in your work!