"Uniting Europe: Tackling Employment Needs of People from Disability or Disadvantaged Groups through Learning Technology"
Ruth Garner, Margaret Dilloway, and Pearl Whiten
The U.K. JOB Project is a European funded project that deliversremote vocational guidance to people with disabilities and fromdisadvantaged groups. The Project is part of a European network, known asGATE , (Guidance and Assessment into Training and Employment) and each ofthe partners in the network are developing different varieties ofmethodologies using new technologies. The different approaches taken bythe U.K., Italy, Spain, France and Greece are briefly described and the keyfeatures of shared learning between different cultures are discussed. Themeasures taken to embed the work of the GATE partnership into mainstreamservices are reviewed and the steps now required to take the work forwardacross Europe in the new Millenium are debated.
THE JOB PROJECT
In January 1998, four organisations came together to form a partnership inBirmingham with the aim of structuring a new method of vocational guidancewhich would provide people with disabilities a 24 hour access to trainingby the use of computer mediated conferencing. This training would beaccessed by the participants either from their own homes or from accesscentres near to their homes. Bournville College of Further Education,Birmingham City Council Adult Education and Economic DevelopmentDepartments and South Birmingham Mental Health Trust formed the partnershipwith Learn Net Advisers and Research Limited providing the technicalexpertise. The programme was funded under a European Horizon Employmentinitiative and supported by Birmingham Core Skills Partnership. TheProject worked as a member of the European network, GATE, together withpartners in Italy, Finland, Spain, Greece and France, in order toconcentrate on themes of teleguidance, teletraining and teleworking.
The virtual learning environment was modelled upon Greenwich University'sVILE system (Virtual Integrated Learning Environment) and customised tomeet the special needs of our client group. Using Lotus Notes software, webuilt up a system of databases which would form the foundation of a virtualcollege and which would be accessed by students, tutors and the operationalmanagement team. The system was to be asynchronous so that both studentsand tutors would ahve time to consider and reflect before committing theirwork to paper and, more importantly, before allowing the work to be seen byothers. By using such a methodology, students and tutors could access thesystem at any time convenient to themselves, day or night. It was,therefore, time and place independent and assisted the removal of bothphysical and organisational barriers and boundaries.
For students, databases were formulated which comprised 2 classrooms orworkshops, a common room (no tutors allowed access) and a well stockedlibrary of resources which was constantly updated and which included theclassroom handouts. Two further rooms were soon added , both with tutoraccess. One was for the independent Evaluator from the TavistockInstitute, London. She was able to speak with students during the courseof their programme and obtain constant, up to date and honest informationand feedback in a confidential setting. A second database provided accessto an on line qualified mentor who was able to assist with any personalproblems that might arise for the participant. Access to one to one e mailwas also provided on line to all students and was used for privatediscussion.
Tutors and managers enjoyed their own databasess so that daily concerns andissues could be resolved instantly. All concerned with the Project wereasked to log on daily in order to keep abreast of developments andinformation was constantly updated , including minutes of meetings.
The team approached the Open College Network of the West Midlands todiscuss the possibilities of accrediting the guidance programme. Asubmission was finally taken to panel and the JOB Project became anaccredited programme of 5 credits taken at Levels 1 to 3. These were inthe subjects of self awareness, assertiveness, decision making, job searchand career pathways. The accreditation was completed by a Level 3qualification in computer mediated conferencing. So far, all completingstudents have gained accreditation.
As the programme developed, we were able to include further databases forstudents who wished to improve their numeracy and literacy. On line accessto a specialist tutor as also provided.
It soon became obvious to the management team that tutors working in thismedium required special training. New skills were required in order toadapt traditional classroom delivery methods to a remote medium wherestudents and tutors never meet on a face to face basis and there is nopossibility of utilising the arts of non verbal communication. The team,in co-operation with our friends at the Open College Network, set aboutputting together a new qualification for Virtual Tutors which focused uponthe skills needed to deliver training remotely and this was accredited atLevel III. The training programme was also delivered remotely withparticipants accessing computers at home or at work. This programme hasproved to be incredibly successful and the Project team have been inundatedby requests from individuals and organisations wishing to participate insuch training.
The newest development in the U.K. JOB Project has been to offer trainingto prospective mentors, both for JOB and for other projects, again remotelythrough the computer system. Currently 12 participants are studying an OCNLevel III programme in Mentor Preparatory Training and these include 5students with disabilities who previously undertook the JOB vocationalguidance programme and who wished to progress and help others in similarsituations.
The JOB Project is due to complete in June 2000 with a virtual internetconference and mainstreaming of the product has already begun. So far 120students have benefited from the vocational guidance programme and 48virtual tutors have been trained.Our transnational partners have worked with us to research our remotesystem and to put together a system of vocational guidance which is commonto the six countries of the GATE network. Each partner pooled theirexpertise in delivering vocational guidance, with the U.K. acting as leadpartner in this exercise. As an end product of the European network, avocational guidance booklet is being produced, complete with a glossary ofterms, which will be presented to Brussells. A further document is beingcompleted based on the legal frameworks used by each partner country whichrelate to employment law for people with disabilities. Our Spanishpartners are leading on this element of the joint dissemination and a legalframework document is being produced which identifies commonalities ofpractice in each member state and pulls together areas of good practice. This document will also be presented to Brussells at the completion of theProject.
The U.K. JOB partnership led on the subject of the use of mentors andmentor systems. Members of the JOB team visited our partners in Italy,Finland and Greece and presented seminars on setting up mentor systems. Weare due to visit Finland in May to deliver mentor training to individualswho our Finnish partners have identified as wishing to become mentors. Mentoring is a new concept in Europe and the U.K. partners have been ableto share their experience and expertise in this field.
Our Finnish partners have researched and developed the use of teleworkingwithin their project and they have shared with us their systems and modelsof promotion. Their main telework centre was based in Roveniemi, Lapland,at a huge rehabilitation hospital where people with disabilities are ableto use information technologies to obtain well paid employment.
Our Italian partners also have their main centre at the rehabilitationhospital of Don Carlo Gnocchi in Milan. They have used the concepts ofremote learning to deliver training to people with severe physicaldisabilities in information technologies. They have also developed newtraining packages which can be accessed by students remotely together withtraining and development aids.Our partners in Tenerife have shown good practice in delivering training to students in their own homes, usually in the most remote areas of theisland. The training has been delivered remotely using the internet andvideo conferencing between the tutor and student. They have used a systemof mentoring by asking for volunteers from the University who are studyingpsychology. These mentors then visit the students in their own homes andact as 'buddys' or support workers. Other staff visit the students ifthere are problems with technology.
France has focused upon the need to ensure that there are systems ofsupport for people with disabilities once they have found paid employment. They have focused upon systems which enhance this retention and have pulledtogether experts from the fields of medicine, social work, benefitagencies, etc. who will act immediately if a client has any type of problemwithin his/her employment.
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