At REY Europe, we’re well aware of how taking part in a European work placement can be life-changing for young people. We recently travelled to Vilnius, capital city of Lithuania, to learn more about this.
Our Lithuanian hosts at the Education Exchanges Support Foundation (SMPF) did a fantastic job in bringing together a range of vocational training centres, universities, research institutes and government bodies from across the Erasmus+ participating countries. For our Lithuanian hosts, 2018 is also significant, since Lithuania is celebrating 100 years since the signing of its Act of Independence, as well as 20 years’ involvement in Erasmus+ and its preceding projects.
The conference was clearly an important event for such a small country of only 2.8 million people. Well-known actor Kirill Glušajev gave his own account of his Erasmus experience in England. Jurgita Petrauskienė, Lithuanian Minister of Education and Science, opened the event, and in many respects pre-empted the theme of the conference. For her, work and study placements abroad not only develop vocational and academic skills, they also develop key life competences and soft skills.
A range of workshops discussed aspects of the impact of Erasmus+ both in terms of young people’s lives and their future employment prospects, as well as the broader social benefits of increased transnational mobility.
Research from Lithuania showed that the most commonly-cited skills to be gained from a European placement were increased communication skills, better foreign language skills, greater flexibility and adaptability, more enhanced teamwork skills, and increased resilience and conflict resolution skills. This was broadly echoed in similar research undertaken in several other countries.
In addition, research from Finland argued that, as well as these skills, international work and study placements also develop the key traits of productivity, curiosity and resilience. These are exactly the skills which will be needed in an economy which will become more and more globally linked, yet potentially more prone to social and environmental crises in the coming decades.
Closer to home, research from the UK pointed to the underrepresentation of working class, Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and disabled students within Erasmus+, and a discussion ensued as to how organisations working with young people can ensure equality of access to Erasmus+ opportunities. This is something we are especially passionate about at REY Europe.
We’ll be thinking about how we can use these insights – and many others – as we develop new partnerships and projects in the future. In particular, we’ll be examining how they can inform the development of our new project, Understanding My Journey. In this project, we’re already working with partners in Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Croatia and Poland to develop new methods and tools to identify, record and assess the soft skills development of young people.
The last word should go to Sam, a UK student on an Erasmus+ study placement in Vilnius. His advice to other young people thinking about Erasmus+ is simple: “Go with an open mind and meet the world”.