Welsh vocational learners stand out from the crowd after work experience in Finland.
A group of Welsh learners have boosted their skills and CVs after gaining hands-on work experience in Finland.
Cardiff-based training provider, Portal Training, arranged for the Higher Level Apprenticeship Leadership and Management learners to spend two weeks in Scandinavia as part of the Workbased Learning Wales project - funded by an Erasmus+ grant.
Portal Training led a consortium of UK partners, drawing participants from within its own team as well as from partner organisation, ACT Training.
The aim of this project was to enrich participants learning experience, motivating them to stretch and challenge themselves to gain employment or promotion opportunities, whilst enhancing their technical skills.
Gaining skills and good practice
During their trip the Leadership and Management learners observed management practices in Finnish schools in order to pick up good practice to bring back to their own institutions in Wales. They visited a range of primary and secondary schools, getting the chance to see a broad variety of management techniques.
“All participants were following government funded higher level apprenticeships while working in the education sector, so observing different management practice had the potential for a big impact,” said Clare Jeffries, Operations Director at Portal Training.
Learners clearly saw the benefit of taking part in this project, providing positive feedback at the end of their time in Finland.
“It was evident during the evaluation stage of the project that the Leadership and Management participants found the experience to be valuable.
"All of the learners either agreed or strongly agreed that their confidence, motivation and self-esteem levels had increased as a direct result of this experience.”
“This was a golden opportunity for any educator,” said participant Aled Jones, from Bro Alltau in Caerphilly. “A fantastic experience to observe and discuss leadership and management techniques in contrasting environments, with valuable connections made to collaborate with teachers in Finland.
“The experience made me a more confident teacher and middle-leader within the educational system – I feel confident to understand the strength in our own educational system and what we could improve.”
Wellbeing and communication
Participant wellbeing and regular, effective communication is essential for a smooth-running project. For Portal Training, one of the most important ways of ensuring this was finding the right people to act as accompanying staff.
“Getting those staff members right is really important for the wellbeing of participants,” said Clare. “If they engage well with the them, the learners will feel comfortable to speak to them and they can support them much better.
The experience made me a more confident teacher and middle-leader within the educational system
“The accompanying staff introduced the participants to their placement, made sure they were comfortable, visited them regularly at their placement and had daily catch up sessions to reflect on the day's activities.
“Ideally when planning learner mobility projects, accompanying staff should have previous experience of managing participants abroad. As a project manager, you need to be confident your staff can think on their feet and make suitable decisions quickly, as nothing ever goes entirely to plan.
“For us it was also important to have both Welsh and English-speaking accompanying staff members, as some of our participants were bilingual.”
Portal Training accompanying staff utilised company WhatsApp groups to keep in touch with the Portal team during the mobility period, in order to share the experiences with a wider audience.
Impact at work
“For any recruiting employer, to see people have this experience and exposure sets them apart from other applicants,” said Clare. "They have different experiences that they can talk about at interview that most other candidates won’t have.
“For this group, their exposure to different practices allows them to bring different perspectives and techniques to an organisation. This makes you more unique.”
James Smith, a participant from Cardiff Flying Start, said: “It was a fantastic opportunity to experience the famous Finnish education system. These newly-sourced skills will be used in the future when applying for promotions within my workplace.”
“One of the key objectives for us as an organisation was to raise awareness of European mobility projects in Wales," said Clare. "We feel it is really important to try to get more Welsh people involved in international education and training experiences, so they can reap the benefits.
“By taking part in Erasmus+ we’ve really benefitted as an organisation. Getting involved in these projects really raises the profile of your organisation, even just on a local level, as local press may be interested in your activities.
“It also gives you the opportunity to promote your learners by putting them forward for awards, as they have something special that will make them stand out.
“There’s so much for participants of all ages to gain from these experiences, so we wanted to support other organisations to get involved through a consortium, to act as a mentor through the process.
"When I first started my Erasmus+ journey, I had an informal mentor and it was one of the most valuable resources when you’re first starting out.”
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