Mobility is part of the flexibility considered important for the European labour force. Learning mobility, that is transnational mobility for the purpose of acquiring new skills, is one of the fundamental ways through which individuals, particularly young people, can strengthen their future employability as well as their personal development (European Commission 2009).
In 2013 only in the UK 145 mobility project for People in IVET and 55 for People in the labour market were funded. The statistics shows that the number of successful applications granted Mobility funding increases gradually each year. This is not a UK specific trend, but a European tendency which will be further nourished during the new programme period 2014-2020 and the ERASMUS programme.
Preliminary literature research as well as 12 structured oral interviews among SMEs from the project partner countries who have hosted mobility in the last three years showed that this stakeholder of EU mobilities is often neglected. Interviewed companies expressed interest in having some guidelines or tools which can prepare them not only for the practical implementation of the mobility but also for the necessary soft skills such as intercultural competences.
The success of the placements abroad depends a lot on the extent to which the trainee gets in contact with the lifestyle, mindset and habits of the hosting country. In this process that is both personal and intercultural for trainees, the role of hosting organisations is central. SMEs represent the trainee’s “practical handbook” in the world of work and also for the country’s identity and environment (economic, social and cultural). Inadequate preparation, unrealistic/ unmet expectations, and unsettling intercultural encounters can have detrimental effects on sojourner perceptions, adjustment, and willingness to engage with host nationals.
Students may even return home with entrenched negative stereotypes of their hosts and the host culture (Allen, Dristas, and Mills, 2007; Bateman, 2002; Stroebe, Lenkert, and Jonas, 1988), ‘a strengthened sense of national identity’ (Block, 2007), and a higher dose of ethnocentricism (Isabelli-Garçia, 2006; Jackson, 2008).
The long year practice of EU mobilities has resulted in improving the process of conducting such mobilities and generated a common knowledge pool available through different initiatives and projects of the community. One common characteristic of all these tools is the focus on the learners (students, young people, etc.) who are going to the new country and their preparation for this challenging experience. The role and preparation of the hosting companies most often SMEs is neglected to great extent. There are few useful practical guides oriented towards SMEs which is the second biggest learning mobilities hosting group of organization category after vocational education training institutions and organizations.
It is true that the trainees are carrying the bigger burden of professional, cultural and uncertainty challenges. The hosting SMEs are also facing the intercultural challenge, however as they are placed in their natural country there are no actions to prepare them for the encounter with different culture. Some intermediary organizations provide such training or guidance as part of their services. Yet these trainings are partial and incomplete. Thus, through the preliminary study done in all partner countries and from the practical experience of the involved institutions, an unexplored area for improvement of the effectiveness of European mobilities was identified - the development of intercultural skills of the SMEs hosting the mobilities.
Hence, the overall aim of the InterMobil project is to create a more favourable environment for youth exchanges and mobility programmes in the field of VET and Labour Market placements.