We have worked with these kinds of programmes since the beginning,” says Roseane Navrotskiy from Brazil-based education agency, Beth Coutinho, one of the trailblazers of the work & travel sector. According to the results of a recent questionnaire by Language Travel Magazine, many agencies from around the world offer their clients work & travel programmes as an attractive alternative to international language study.
Ernesto Sarrion, Director of Spanish agency, Oneco, says, “A professional education [overseas]; doing an internship as a trainee is very important for any student who wants to get experience and a better CV before finding a real job.”
The work & travel sector comprises professional internships as well as paid work experience abroad, which typically consists of jobs within tourism and hospitality industries, although this can vary according to the country where the placement is undertaken. All student participants believe that taking part in a work & study programmes will stand them in good stead when applying for future work opportunities.
The agencies who took part in our survey of the sector have all been providing work experience and internship placements abroad, both paid and unpaid, for several years. The American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) based in Germany, has offered ‘Camp America’ as a work & travel programme since 1983 and since then the agency has developed 11 different voluntary and internship placements in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
“The work & travel participants are about one-third of our overall clientele,” relates Barbara Hassels, Marketing and Sales Director at AIFS. “I assume these figures will rise as work & travel is ‘en vogue’.” Hassels believes that work & travel clients are a separate breed to clients looking for language programmes overseas, whom the agency also caters for. “[A typical client for work & travel programmes] has just left school and is seeking adventures abroad for the first time in their life,” she says.
Navrotskiy at Beth Coutinho agrees that work & travel attracts a different market to traditional language programmes. “Around 70 per cent of our work & travel clients have never studied abroad previously,” she relates, although many of Oneco’s clients have previously been on an Erasmus [EU-funded] exchange programme, according to Sarrion.
Oneco’s Spanish and Portuguese clients show a preference for work & travel programmes in Anglo-Saxon countries, though Sarrion notes an increasing number of students travelling to Poland, Bulgaria and throughout Europe for work experience. Meanwhile, for both InterLatina, an agency based in Argentina, and AIFS, it is the USA that is most popular with clients. According to Veronica Ferreyra from InterLatina, this is followed by demand for the UK, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
Education agencies involved in this sector do face unique business issues. Navrotskiy raises the issue of finding “enough adequately-oriented providers in particular regions or countries” for their clients and others are all in agreement. Sarrion says, “It is very difficult to find partners willing to work in this educational area.” He explains, “We need close evaluation. Reports that will give us an idea of how the participant is developing in the company, with their colleagues, progress in the work placement, etc.”
Teresa Rivera, General Director at Ordex Cultural Exchange an Ecuadorean agency that has offered Work & Travel programmes since 1998 observes another aspect presenting a challenge to the sector: “The competition is growing everywhere,” she claims. “We need to manage decent margins to cover operations, [but] I know that in some countries in South America, the sponsors or international partners who opened their markets through agents, are opening branch offices in these countries; this is even more competition than expected locally.”
Despite Hassels’ prediction of further growth for the sector, some agencies report stagnating demand (and supply) in the last year for paid jobs. In 2008, 50 per cent of clients were on Work & Travel programmes at Beth Coutinho, but Navrotskiy reports that this fell to 13 per cent in 2009 due to the global economic downturn and the threat of swine flu. InterLatina saw a rise to 70 per cent of clientele on work & travel programmes in 2008, which was also followed by a significant decline in 2009. Ferreyra explains that “due to the economic crisis …less employers [were] looking for international students to fulfil the seasonal staffing needs”.
Antonio Bacelar Jr. from Via Mundo in Brazil said that due to the financial crisis and the difficulty it caused in finding jobs for clients, the agency temporarily withdrew its Work & Travel programmes last year. “It was damaging the image of our company having students in the USA, unemployed [and] waiting for a position,” he says.
Sarrion, bucking the trend, says that in the same period Oneco saw an increase in the number of clients on Work & Travel programmes, although these were for unpaid work placements.
Nevertheless, agents are optimistic that this sector of the market will grow in the future. Ferreyra posits, “Young people feel very attracted to this kind of experience as it is not just being a tourist in a country but living and sharing a lot of things.”