Learners say ‘Guten Tag!’ to job opportunities after vocational placements in Germany
From boosting job prospects to improved student retention and pass rates – the benefits of giving young learners work experience opportunities abroad through Erasmus+ are clear for The College Merthyr Tydfil.
The college's European Consolidated Vocational and Employability Development project was designed to provide enriching educational and social development opportunities, helping learners overcome barriers to employment that prevail in the South Wales Valleys.
The project provided 284 students with the opportunity to travel to Germany and gain work experience in nine vocational areas – construction, motor vehicle technology, engineering, business, IT, childcare, travel and tourism, hair and beauty, and health and social care.
Christine Bissex-Foster, Head of Erasmus+, Enterprise and Skills for the college, says projects like this are vital for young people in Merthyr.
“The experience for our students is life-changing," she said. "Some of them have never been abroad or completed work experience.
“They go out as children and come back as adults.”
Students undertaking this work experience are at a distinct advantage when applying for jobs and university.
One learner who really benefitted from taking part in the project was Shane Brunker.
When starting his Level 2 Carpentry course, Shane was unfocused and disconnected with the learning process - but his tutors encouraged him to apply for an Erasmus+ placement in Schleswig, Germany.
“During the visit, Shane seemed to change; his attitude towards staff and the working situation became much more focused," said Christine. "He engaged with the German employer very well, not complaining about the long working day that is normal in the German construction industry and fully participating in the social aspects of the trip.
“Shane turned a corner during the experience.”
Learning and working in a new environment gave Shane the opportunity to reflect on his studies and his future.
“I wised up and realised that I wanted to be different,” he said. “I wanted to succeed on my course, I wanted to make something of myself – Germany showed me I could do it.”
Following his placement, a new, local company approached the college looking for apprentices and Shane was the first candidate chosen for a position.
Head of Construction at The College Merthyr Tydfil, Simon Robson, said: “Shane’s attitude, confidence and outlook is completely different and through Erasmus+ participation, and guidance and support from tutors, he is proof that young people can thrive and develop given opportunity.”
Benefiting from work experience abroad
Shane was not the only learner to value his Erasmus+ experience. Level 2 Hairdressing student Emma Burton also felt she had benefited from taking part and was able to secure summer work as a result of her placement.
“I was placed in a hair salon called Schnidtz Punk in Jena,” Emma said. "During the two weeks I had the opportunity to practice colouring, cutting, blow-drying and lots of other general hairdressing skills.
“It was a fantastic experience. The Germans have totally different hairstyles to the UK, with German people tending to opt for more natural styles, so it was great to practice styles that I’m not used to doing. It was also great to pick up new techniques.”
Emma impressed the Schnidtz Punk Salon owners so much that she was invited to spend two month’s work experience with them the following summer.
“I hope that the summer placement will increase my confidence as a hairdresser and provide me with that extra experience to help me secure a job at the end of my studies,” Emma added.
Dafydd Thomas, a Level 2 Motor Vehicle Technology student, did his work experience with Opel in Schleswig.
The company were so impressed with Dafydd that they offered him a full-time apprenticeship and, once he had finished his course at the college, he moved to Germany to take up the role.
Dafydd commented: “I really enjoyed my work placement and was so happy to be offered a full-time position. I am loving every minute of my time in Germany.
“Convincing me was the fact that Germany is number one when it comes to engineering," he said. "In five years’ time, I’m still planning on being out here in Germany, I’m thinking about doing my masters here.”
Improving results in the college
While some learners have found their experience has helped them find work or an apprenticeship, the college has found that others who have taken part in Erasmus+ are more likely to complete and be more successful in their vocational courses.
Across the subjects, Erasmus+ participants performed between 3-16 per cent better than those who hadn’t taken part.
Christine believes that engagement in an international work experience programme has contributed to a number of the students successfully gaining employment at the end of their studies.
“The programme has enabled the college to work together with European partners to improve training, skills and employability for our students,” she said. “It offers a life-changing challenge that builds confidence and increases aspirations.
“Although a little nervous about holding down a work placement in a foreign country, all of the students we have taken have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and gained confidence and skills during their time abroad.”
An advantage for the future
In addition to enhancing the students’ confidence and employability, the programme has also contributed positively to participants’ wider essential skills such as team working, problem solving and self-motivation.
“This funding adds a whole new dimension to many courses and just adds to the great experience students get whilst at the college,” Christine said.
“Students undertaking this work experience are at a distinct advantage when applying for jobs and university. They have wider ambitions and believe there are opportunities in life for them within Europe."
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