August 2009 issue

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Opening the door to opportunity

Gaining professional experience overseas – be that paid or unpaid – is invaluable as a career enhancing and linguistic immersion experience. Agents need to realise that this is a very different product to language learning, leading to a different tangible asset too – the ability to open the door, not just knock on it. While still nascent, the industry offers many opportunities. Amy Baker reports.

We have a good demand for work & travel programmes; people look at programmes which secure work placement before arrival and are affordable,” says Leona Rysava, Business Director of Work and Au Pair programmes at Student Agency in the Czech Republic. She adds that demand for such programmes in Europe is on the rise, whereas those intent on working in the USA are dwindling in comparison.

Rysava typifies a breed of agent that has embraced the work & travel sector and finds it to be a stable business sector. Other agencies have different experiences to report: at Kilroy International in Denmark, “around one per cent of all our customers travelling worldwide are interested in work & travel,” relates Robert Doeleman, Product Manager. Nevertheless, he says, “Demand is stable, with some increase”, noting that he only works with Australia and New Zealand-based operations. “We have not really been searching for [partners in] other countries,” he says.

At Viajes Galeón in Colombia, Ricardo Cervera is dismissive of the sector, believing that students can organise work placements on their own: “As students are allowed to work [in countries overseas], people dont need to “buy” this service because they can find it by themselves, and are not willing to pay,” he says. “And in the future and due to the world recession, we think it will be the same or worse. It´s going to get harder to market this service in the future.”

Although students can organise jobs on their own as a part-time top up to study, entering a country specifically to work can be a rather more difficult challenge. Ensuring swift access to the employment market, either for paid positions or unpaid positions that allow a candidate to build up business skills within a sympathetic environment, can require the services of an experienced agency or language school, particularly for internships where a company has to be briefed as to the expectations of them and their intern.  

Building a strong network of partners is therefore necessary for an agency considering working in this sector: even more so than in the language travel sector, because clients will not be in the monitored confines of a language school but out on their own working in a professional enterprise, whether that is a paid position or not. Rysava notes, “Greece and Cyprus are difficult to work with as employers do not tend to follow contract rules and partner agencies are not reliable.”

There are many good organisations offering work placements independently of language schools (although partnering with them if required), but a number of agents have originally sought to work with language schools that offer work experience as a product so as to feel secure about the delivery, onus of responsibility and student orientation. Scott Jeary of English Bay College in Canada believes this distinction is an important one.

“There are many placement companies about to help students who are here on a working holiday visa find a job for a fee,” he says. “It is important for a student or agent to recognise the difference between a placement company who partners with a school and receives a fee for service versus an actual school who is responsible for your entire experience in Canada. Our programme is specifically about learning English language and Canadian culture and we utilise internship experience as part of the overall programme of study to help our students achieve that objective.”

At English Bay College, demand is even for both unpaid and paid jobs – paid placements are, in the main, seasonal jobs within the hospitality and tourism industries, which have always relied on seasonal staff – and 95 per cent of all school clients request work & travel programmes, says Jeary.

Emma Rodriguez Aguilar, Director of Academic Global Network Consultancy (AGNC) in Spain, observes that finding a good provider is one of the headaches involved in this sector, for which she sees burgeoning demand. “Five-to-10 per cent of our students request paid work programmes and 15-to-20 per cent of our students request unpaid work programmes,” she relates. Underlining what she sees as the downside of the work & travel sector, she lists very low wages, high placement fees, visa problems, finding a good provider, unflexible start dates and the long duration of a preliminary ESL course as all problematic factors to contend with.

She claims she has met no particularly good work placement providers, in fact! “We only offer this [type of programme] if requested and only when requested by returning/repeat students,” she says, adding that clients seeking paid programmes request jobs relevant to their interests. After being informed that most paid jobs are in hospitality and tourism, “99 per cent turn this down and go with unpaid” she notes.

Jayne Stroud at the Training Partnership in the UK agrees that ensuring satisfied work placement clients is a difficult job. “Work experience programmes are far more difficult to administer than language training,” she says. “The length of work experience programmes by their very nature demand more input from the sending and receiving organisation. Unless they have an understanding of career development issues it can be quite fraught at times.”

The Training Partnership does offer both paid and unpaid placements, with paid jobs typically in cafés, hotels, restaurants and motorway service stations, while unpaid jobs can be found in all sectors. Stroud does see continuous growth in these sectors, despite the higher stakes involved in ensuring client satisfaction, and says her company will specialise in these two sectors soon. She observes that paid work programmes expand travel opportunities to those who cannot afford it otherwise: “For those participants who do not receive any type of [EU] funding (i.e. Leonardo da Vinci – European Life Long Learning Programmes), paid work within the hospitality sector is one way of ensuring that they can afford to fund themselves and improve their language skills at the same time. Total immersion in the culture and an understanding of the work ethic is far more beneficial.”

Duncan Cameron of work placement provider LAF, also in the UK, agrees with Stroud’s point that paid work programmes open up international travel to a wider community, given that language study can be fairly expensive. He laments the new visa rules in the UK that now dictate that any work placement for visa nationals has to be matched by a similar term of study, if a student is to undertake a work placement on a student visa. “There has to be a reduction in numbers from outside of the EU,” he observes, “simply because it will cost more to get here.”

While, in the UK, new visa rules have essentially tightened up access to internships or paid jobs for non-EU nationals, at the same time, one gradual and positive development is the increasing acceptance and expectance of work training as part of a higher education or further education programme. Cameron notes that his company is considering forging links with education institutions that require an internship as part of a course such as an HND. “Internships are becoming more institutionalised,” he says.

Stroud echoes this sentiment. “Most EU educational institutions now implement a “compulsory” period of work experience,” she says. “The introduction and acceptance of Practical Vocational Training has necessitated this growth within the industry.” At fellow UK work experience provider, Twin Group, Joanne Sayer concurs. “Work experience is becoming increasingly popular, especially with more universities requiring students to complete a compulsory work experience in order to complete their studies.” She notes that the new 50/50 work rule will mean increased costs within the UK, which may lose out to cheaper competitor countries. But overall, she is confident that “the work experience industry will continue to grow and flourish”.

One new competitor is Globalplacement.com, which can offer internships in many countries around the world. Rochelle Tseng of Globalplacement, based in the Netherlands, is keen to work with other agencies to open up internships to the global student clientele. She explains that the company offers a database of available internships that can be marketed under a “white label” by universities in the Netherlands also. “Our business is an online business, but if we can have agencies to represent us and to be the mediator for us, it is only better,” she says, “because lots of students prefer an actual person they can get information from.”
She adds, “We are getting lots of inquiries from Africa and India, but there is not a distinctive inflow of students from one certain country, because we are accessible to anyone from anywhere. We are an internship mediator between students and companies from all around the world, therefore we are providing placements in almost every industry area and the internships are both paid and unpaid, depending on the country and company.”

Many work placement organisations are keen to work with agencies. Celina Santos of sister companies Euroyouth in Portugal and Oneco in Spain, says, “The network with which we work is made of many agents. This is an element that increments the quality potential of the programmes, as participants are better prepared and informed towards the “adventure” to be lived abroad.” In the case of Australian Internships in Australia, Di Pilling explains that they work with both education agents and education insitutions to promote their internships to potential clients, as well as accepting online bookings (which are increasing).

She comments, “Partner agencies are crucial for business growth and we rely on good partners to promote, support and advise candidates about the various programme options and requirements. I would envisage that many [similar] organisations will combine university and education partners with established agent networks that grow and inform the market about their programmes.”

Unlike those in the UK, Pilling is hopeful that government support may see internships becoming ever more popular in Australia: “I do not doubt that government and industry will be influential and taking a more active role with future international education as careers are more linked to the global job market.” Meanwhile, Jeary in Canada is cognisant that Canada’s share of the work placement pie is ultimately dependent on higher-level authority. He predicts growth “will depend in a large way on the amount of support and recognition the industry receives from our governing bodies: CIC, DFait, and Heritage Canada federally, as well as the ministries of Advanced Education provincially.”

Timothy Wells, President of Internex International Exchange in Canada, is very upbeat with his prognosis: “Canada is increasing in its competitiveness in this area, though as always at a cautious pace,” he says. “Canada has a number of visa options for nearly all countries, and is doing an excellent job thus far of balancing the protection of our own labour market whilst opening the door to those looking for experiential/cultural placement opportunities in the country and not relegating participants to second-tier opportunities or simply addressing low-skilled labour issues within the country.”

He adds that Canada is also addressing its regional labour needs through the Provincial Nominee Programme and Skilled Worker Immigration as well as offering the opportunity for graduates from universities and colleges to work in their area of expertise after graduation. “For agents, all of this does necessitate a little more investment into self-education on visa and programme specifics, but will garner more pervasive and versatile products.”

Wells is adamant that agencies are fundamental to the growth of the industry. “This is a massive growth area across the board, and the need for agent involvement will also proportionally increase as well,” he says. “Unlike traditional education products which tend to have more predetermined substance, the success of work experience programmes requires a significant amount of screening and information delivery to clients on the front-end, which is where the need for local agency partners is critical. Work experience and experiential programmes in general are difficult products to appropriately manage and sell; most of the work (on all levels) is concerning expectation management.”

In Argentina, Joanne Hurley of Expanish also testifies to the importance of working with agents for internships. She in fact says that they developed their internship programme, which was launched in May, “after consulting with many of our agents who were also receiving an increased number of enquiries about working while studying Spanish”. She says that many Argentine companies are trying to expand globally and so are keen to employ international interns.

“Argentina is an ideal option for those students who want to focus on a Spanish speaking country without incurring the expense of cities like Madrid or Barcelona, so we can foresee that it will become an extremely popular destination, especially with the USA being so close and the need in the US to speak Spanish in the job market”.

 Gabriella Antezza, Italy

“About one year after graduating in foreign languages I happened to know that there were selections being held to allocate some EU grants within the Leonardo Da Vinci mobility framework: The most deserving candidates would be given the opportunity to benefit from a 12-week internship programme in the UK – four weeks of language training and eight weeks of work experience. I was trying to find my professional pathway and thought it was just the right chance for me to test myself and become aware of my real expectations.

I won the grant and went to Torquay were I had my first work experience work placement at The Training Partnership Ltd (TTPL). I entered a completely new professional world that fascinated me so much that I thought it would be fantastic to be able to work in this kind of international field. In 2002 I opened “The Culture Net” in Italy; besides teaching English, Italian and other language courses, I couldn’t give up the idea of applying for funding for a Leonardo da Vinci Project. The first mobility project we submitted was approved! The experience gained first at the TTPL and then in London allowed me to prioritise the organisation and management of such a programme from a student’s point of view as well as a hosting organisation (TTPL) and the sending organisation (The Culture Net).

Still now I am proud to tell our students that I started as one of them and now I run my own company that surely brings ‘renewed hope’ to our regional business and cultural community.”

Laia Soldevila, Spain

“Work experience is a really good way to test yourself, to know your possibilities in a different environment. This was the idea I had in mind when I started to work at Hothouse Media. I was placed here as part of the Leonardo programme, via Twin in the UK.

I have studied and experienced journalism, but I was looking for something else, something that would help me grow as a professional and gain new work tools. Working with a British company and having the chance to share and learn new daily routines has really met my expectations. With Hothouse Media and Language Travel Magazine, I learnt not only how to write in a different language, but also I found out about the world of study abroad (agents and language schools), which was until now unknown to me.

This means that my mind has opened to new fields, new perspectives, and I would not have been aware of this industry otherwise. When I go back to Spain, I will be able to write about a new international experience on my CV. Although not everyone will know, this statement of experience implies many things: experience of working in a different style, meeting new people and living in another country.”

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Feltom Malta  
IALC International  
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University of
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France Langue  
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IP International
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Atlantic Language
Centre of English

IH Milano  

Kai Japanese
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Feltom Malta  
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Home Language


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Malaca Instituto -
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ONECO - the
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EF Language
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IEFT- International
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Angelo State
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Zoni Language
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