By Alicia Gabán Barrio, Communications Officer and Project Assistant, EFET (European Forum of Technical and Vocational Education and Training.)
The project Innovative Curriculum on Soft Skills for Adult Learners (ICARO) is funded by the European Union programme, Erasmus +, and aims to design a customised, bespoke training course for adult learners with low skills to assist their (re)integration into the labour market. The project consists of a consortium of partner organisations from six European countries – Spain, Germany, Belgium, Greece, Lithuania and Ireland. ICARO will run for two years from November 2017 to August 2019.

The European Union provides grants under the Erasmus+ programme for a wide range of actions including the opportunity for students and staff to undertake ‘mobilities’ around Europe (Key Action 1). These mobilities are funded periods of travel to another European member state to share good practice and learn from other systems. The Erasmus+ programme also makes it possible for organisations from different participating countries to work together, to develop, share and transfer best practices and innovative approaches in the fields of education, training and youth (Key Action 2). ICARO was selected and funded under Key Action 2 in order to cooperate and design a customised training path adapted to the needs of each participant in order for them to secure (re) integration into the labour market. ICARO will work with long-term unemployed adult learners, low-skilled learners and people facing difficulties finding employment.

Why build an innovative curriculum on soft-skills for adult learners?

In today’s society, there is a need for adults regularly to enhance their personal and professional skills and competences. Given the current instability in the labour market and the need to reduce the risk of social exclusion, this applies particularly to people with low levels of skills and qualifications.

ICARO partners had in common the same goal: to improve the employability of adult learners who have been longtime unemployed. Taking into account that Europe is going through a long and difficult period of economic crisis, it is vital to improve the employability of adults who might be low skilled and could suffer even more from economic difficulties. The OECD Survey for Adult Skills (2013), as part of its programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIACC) presents seven key findings two of which are related to the task at hand. In particular, the improvement of soft-skills can increase the possibility of getting a job. When we talk about soft-skills we refer to skills that are crosscutting across jobs and sectors and relate to personal competences (confidence, discipline, self-management) and social competences (teamwork, communication, emotional intelligence).

The ICARO Project aims to have a real impact on the participating adult learners in terms of improving their employability through training in soft skills related to digital literacy, communications, entrepreneurship and cultural awareness. This training accessed through an online platform will also be piloted and evaluated by a range of stakeholders in education and training (labour market officers, teachers from vocational training schools, nongovernmental organisations, small and medium-sized enterprises, local and national policy makers in the sphere of education). Additionally, stakeholders will extend their knowledge about softskills development and capacities in adult education provision for increased employability.

Not only that, it is intended that adult counsellors or trainers will learn how to motivate adult learners through national and international training of trainers through the ICARO project activities. In fact, one key success factor in the practical implementation of ICARO methodology is the appropriate training of adult staff to be able to successfully reproduce the methodology with end-users.

In practice, what would you expect from the ICARO project?

In practice, ICARO project is working on developing different intellectual outputs which will be used to develop the heart of the project, the training curriculum.

Firstly, we have developed a Transnational Report on accredited tools/programmes on soft-skills for adult learners which brings together information about the situation in the partner countries on educational, training and consulting services to improve the employment-related soft-skills of adults. Partners have now developed a soft-skills assessment toolkit, re-designed to assist adult educators/employment counsellors in assessing current levels of soft skills. There is also a process for establishing a personalised and customised training strategy.

The next steps will include the pilot testing of the training curriculum which aims to provide learners with the information, knowledge and skills to increase their ability and opportunity to obtain employment. On the completion of the curriculum, the learner will have created a portfolio of resources and competences that will inform their capacity and capability for job-seeking and job-keeping.

The course will be presented over 120 hours through an online learning platform. The programme is presented as 12 modules. The online programme will be complemented by a series of workshops/ sessions. Partners will start to work on the training curriculum on a national basis from October 2018. Five adult counsellors or trainers per organisation will be invited to attend the blending learning programme – From home to work – face-to-face training session in Hamburg in November 2018. Thanks to this training session, the attendees will be able to test the training curriculum in their national organisations. The ICARO project advocates the self-direction of the learner through the training programme, facilitating adult learners so that they can accumulate and validate learning units at their own pace.

Partners will share their learning experience through a Handbook for Adult Staff to support the work of other adult counsellors, educators or trainers. This handbook will be available through the ICARO website at the end of the project. ICARO project will also produce case studies evaluating the impact and effects of the learning programme From home to work which will contribute evidence to the need for strengthening the initiatives and actions for adult education across Europe.

Who is involved in ICARO?

The coordinator of the project is the SEF Regional Service of Employment, Career Orientation and Training from the Spanish Region of Murcia. SEF works together with Dublin City University – Institute of Education (Ireland), European Forum of Technical and Vocational Education and Training – EfVET- (Belgium), Hamburger Volkschule (Germany), Technical Institute of Herakilion – Chamber of Commerce & Industry (Greece) and Social Innovation Foundation (Lithuania). Each partner organisation has committed to the project goals but also has set up a Local Action Group which gathers local expert views on the subject of Adult Education and unemployment. Thanks to these local action groups the ICARO project activities will be regularly tested and advised by national experts.

At the end of the project we expect to deliver: a transnational report on accredited tools/programmes on soft-skills for adult learners; a soft skills assessment toolkit – Personalized and Customized Service Strategy; a training curriculum on soft skills for unemployed adult learners; a handbook for adult staff; a blended learning programme – From home to work; accreditation; and Case studies.

Click here for more information about ICARO.

This article was published in the ACE Aotearoa Winter Newsletter 2018.