Emilia PECHEANU – Low Danube University of Galati - ROMANIA
The presentation will lay emphasis on implementation of the Learning territories' concept in a developing country from Eastern Europe. The new Learning territory will be created with aim to sustain the professional inclusion of people in a region of Romania, and will be destined to bridge the gap between the community demand of life long and life wide learning and the local economic provision. The local-specific approach will be to combine various methods and instruments in order to capture, model and package the local resources and know-how into an organizational framework, which will be the foundation of the new Learning territory.
The organizational framework will include specific models of action, consisting of adapted training and accompanying programs for the learning public. While the target domain will be the IT&C domain, a network of action will ensure access to training and guidance for persons wishing to engage the IT&C labour market.
Keywords : organizational framework, models of action, action network, professional integration, regional model
1. The concept of Learning territory
A Learning territory can be considered as an unique environment, where the society and the communities within the society are building new opportunities for education and human development. It can be understood as a geographical and social space where educational initiatives become effective models of action for sustainability and human progress.
In this vision of Learning territories, newly built organizational frameworks should make collaborate persons and institutions for the achievement of common goals, as: ensuring access to education and training of a relevant public and providing support to persons needing guidance for a professional integration. Any Learning territory should take the role of a social ecosystem where evolutionary educational approaches allow building models, experimenting methods and then synthesizing experience into understandable frameworks truly engaging the public into appropriate professional activities.
The models of action in a Learning territory should determine the structure of a local-specific organizational framework, destined to integrate action networks with a sharing use of the various educational resources in that territory.
While deploying the educational/training activities, the newly built organizational framework should promote and sustain the efficient participation of a wide range and type of active actors in the local environment: beneficiaries, stakeholders, partners from industry, but also companies, association or NGO's involved in educational and formative activities, and educational institutions, from VET schools to universities. All these actors will share the various educational resources made available in the territory, as: learning materials, premises, virtual digital environments and spaces, financial resources.
However, among the active actors in a Learning territory, the beneficiaries, i.e. the persons seeking for new development or opportunities for their career, must remain in the focus of all the other participants, and take the central role in every professional training or accompanying program being deployed in that territory.
2.The social status and economic context in the South-East region of Romania
The above interpretation of the concept of learning territories leaded to a particular model of action that can be developed in a district of the South -East region of Romania.
The model of action should take into consideration three main aspects: the social status, the existing economic context, the specific educational needs and the growth tendencies in the local social and economic environment. The analysis of these major issues helped to clearly establish the main components of the model of action and of the subsequent organizational framework: the target field(s), the target group(s), the needed resources, the action networks, and finally, the major steps in performing the educational or guidance activities.
The socio-economic context in this area of Romania is strongly influenced by several factors:
1. last decades' evolutions in the local economic environment:
a significant withdrawing of activity at the local Steel Factory led to a huge decrease of
the number of employees (from 45.000 to 10.000 in 25 years) and to a high unemployment rate in the region;
the migration of labour force has led to a lack of qualified personnel in many fields;
the last years' limited progress in building the of the infrastructure (land and air) at regional level leaded, and still leads to a poor connectivity with other important national economic centres and with the rest of the country;
2. the human potential in the region:
two cities in the region (Galati and Braila), totalling over 450.000 inhabitants are geographically very close;
the number of about 1.000.000 inhabitants in a quite isolated region;
3. the local policies on human resources:
lack of a coherent educational strategy in training the local population in order to meet the local companies demands of competent personnel;
low participation of the adult population to (life long) educational programs;
weak collaboration between the formal education systems and the labour market.
The above aspects affected in the last decades and still influence the socio-economic life in the South-East region of Romania. However, at present days, new education offerings, combined with a shift in local culture encourage the sustainable development of human personnel:
the regional University prepares professionals in domains requested by the labour market, as electrical engineering, food technologies or in several IT&C fields;
specific study programs, as shipbuilding and ship repair, which are in consensus with the geographical position of the region, are being reinforced;
an increasing offer of training courses and qualification programs is provided by private entities as the professional associations or by the local companies having educational activities in their portfolio.
The combination of the above factors determined a local-specific tendency: the development of companies that use qualified or very qualified personal, but not specifically require aerial or terrestrial infrastructure of connection with the rest of the country.
As result, domains as IT&C, food and beverage for local consumption become more and more relevant in the local economy, together with the shipbuilding and the water transportation/trade, obviously favoured by the geographical condition of being located on the river Danube.
3. New technologies as target field in a new Learning territory
When taking into consideration all the aspects presented previously, the IT&C domain could be a plausible choice for the target field in the new Learning territory in the South-East region of Romania. This assumption is also based on the fact that last years the IT&C companies in the region have a high demand for qualified personnel. They constantly express the need of extensive lifelong as well as initial training programs in the domain of IT&C, and require adoption of coherent policies in development of education in this field. In local companies' opinion, a series of networks of action should be created and then integrated into comprehensive organizational or professional structures.
Stakeholders form the companies could play the role of dynamic factors in these structures, ensuring coherence, coordination, and sharing use of educational resources.
The option for the IT&C as target field will ensure the creation of an action network composed of the following actors:
economic partners (companies, institutions, stakeholders) and apprentices; training providers (public or private), teachers, tutors;economic partners (companies, institutions) wishing to support any learning initiative that cover the local demands in skilled personnel.
In the same vision, the beneficiaries (the target group) of the educational initiatives in an action network can be:
persons wishing to acquire the necessary competences in order to get employed in the field;
persons already working, but wishing to get new skills in order to promote in their job.
An action network in the newly built Learning territory of South-East region of Romania suppose development of partnership with: the Regional Agency for Employment, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Continuing Education Centre of the University and other (private) educational bodies), VET schools and VET centres. Partnership will also target the local companies activating in the IT&C domain, which are interested in improving the competences of their employees or in hiring new (skilled) persons.
The choice of action field, action network and of the target groups will permit to create the regional adapted training programs and patterns for the accompanying programs destined to the persons involved in a Learning territory's actions.
4. The organizational framework in a Learning territory
The logical structure of an organizational framework in the Learning Territory must integrate, in an understandable manner, five elements: objectives, actors, resources, methods/tools and action programs/scenarios. All these elements should have a clearly defined position or role within the programs and actions deployed in a Learning territory.
The Objectives (Os) of the programs deployed in an Learning territory are in two categories: general objectives and particular, territory specific objectives.
The general objectives (GOs), refer to the idea of contributing to sustainable development a region/city/district, by matching the needs of the economic/business environment with the need to achieve sustainable insertion and the professional progress of "A large number of people, using a systemic and innovative approach ».
The particular objectives (POs) of creation a Learning territory in a certain country, region or city, are linked to the distinctive conditions and characteristics of the local socio-economic and cultural environment.
The Actors (As) or the participants in the actions running in a Learning territory can be:
beneficiaries (B), who form the "learning public" or the group of persons involved in professional training, accompanying or business coaching programs;
stakeholders (S) - persons who support by their position/intervention the actions and the programs in a Learning territory; they can leaders or deciders in companies, persons having key positions in the companies HR Services, but also teachers, trainers, coaches, directors of professional training programs provided by companies or educational institutions;
institutions or organizations (IO) involved in the actions carried out in the Learning territory;
companies or networks of companies (CNC) involved in any professional training, accompanying or business coaching programs involving the Learning territory's beneficiaries, in view of their integration into the labour market.
A special remark should be made about the beneficiaries of the actions taking place in a Learning territory, regardless of country or the region where the "territory" exists, or it will be created. Some interesting traits can be pointed out after an analysis of the objectives of the beneficiaries or of their social status. The beneficiaries, i.e. the adults involved in professional training, accompanying or coaching programs, are then belonging to the following categories:
persons seeking professional progress (pP), people want to accede to higher levels of responsibility such as entrepreneurship (pE), or try to acquire professional competence in advanced fields such as IT&C (pAF);
persons trying to get access to work (aW), represented by those people who are either obliged to undergo profound occupational changes (in what concerns the occupational profile or level of qualification);
persons who are in the social situation of NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training).
Resources (R): all the above actors will share the various educational resources made available or already existing in the territory, as: learning materials, premises, virtual digital environments and spaces, financial resources.
The Methods and the Tools (M/T) that can be used in order to put in practice the programs within a Learning territory are the following, in a not exhaustive list:
non-formal, informal, cross-curricular training as a main approach in the territory's programs
an individualized approach through coaching, within a personal professional project;
training for employability, which can include development of people soft skills or IT skills;
training for job interview or to develop the ability to find and respond to job offers;vocational experimentation and mentoring;
networking in the field of interest;
capitalize, disseminate and promote lifelong learning experiences, as pragmatic examples of the actions carried out by the territorial actors;
innovative platform for professional integration, including job incubators, job kiosk, special (virtual) environment for learning and experience exchanges;
service-oriented (virtual) stands for couching and counselling services in view of an individualization of the professional pathway;
communication, collaborative work in free exchange of ideas, information and good practices between the entities involved in the professional training or accompanying programs;
recording and further analysis of the feedback from the beneficiaries of the activities/
actions in the Learning territory, as a mean to improve the training/accompanying programs.
Besides the previously mentioned methods and tools, some specific methods and approaches will be put in practice in the Learning territory built in South East of Romania:
putting in place of a portfolio of methods destined to identify, estimate and predict the local market demands on workforce and also the professional profiles that or will be required with a higher priority by the local labour market;
conceiving of a set of specialized, up to date working guides containing description of possible professional paths in a sector or domain; the guides will include definitions of the skills and competences necessary to access each hierarchical level in a profession;
elaborating of guide about techniques of finding information about jobseekers and job offers in a sector/region;
promoting, through various (IT) means, the projects on continuing education, apprenticeship, tutoring, mentoring and coaching which took place in the South-East region of Romania.
As a concluding remark on methods and tools, their common feature should be: a significant orientation in building strong ties between the educational and guidance activities' contributors (institutions/associations but also teachers, trainers, speakers, coaches, etc) and the companies receiving the beneficiaries from Learning territory into special set up apprenticeship programs.
The Models/Scenarios of Action (MA) should take into consideration all the factors and conditions mentioned previously: the objectives, the actors and the methods/tools associated within and through the new Learning territory.
In this respect, any model of action in the new Learning territory must be based on four major activities: (1) identification of beneficiaries, (2) prior assessment of each beneficiary skills, (3) personal professional project for each beneficiary, (4) individualized guiding program proposed to each beneficiary.
These activities involved by an action program in the territory can be further detailed:
the potential beneficiaries in Learning should be first identified and then assisted in their attempt to integrate the programs within the Learning territory;
each beneficiary from the learning public should benefit of an intensive assessment of own competences and skills, before integration in a learning/development program;
an individualized program of development, within a personal professional project, must be proposed to each person/beneficiary from the learning public; the program must be in line with the opportunities on the local labour market;
a personalized support, through mentoring, coaching or tutoring, should be offered to the beneficiaries, in order to help them to access real and sustainable employments;
programs to support entrepreneurship can be proposed to a specific learning public, as the best solution for personal/professional development.
The training for entrepreneurship can be also imagined as the fifth major activity for a specific public in the Learning territory.
Any action program in a Learning territory can imply many activities or so called actions.
Their result concerns mainly the beneficiaries from the learning public, but can also influence the local socio-economic environment in various ways, as:
the action programs can orient the learning public towards the new, modern professions;
the action programs can lead to lasting collaboration between companies, institutions and associations located in the Learning territory.
5. Benchmarking the efficiency of action programs within a Learning territory
The results of the action programs or of the particular training or accompanying activities in a Learning territory must be permanently evaluated, as a mean to determine their efficiency and their effect on the labour market evolution in the region/district/city where that territory has been created. A set of benchmarks can be imagined for performing the qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the various aspects and issues related to activities in a Learning territory:
accessibility for the public to training, accompanying and inclusion programs;
usefulness for beneficiaries of the training, accompanying and inclusion programs/actions;
usefulness for the economic partners of the training, accompanying and inclusion programs;
economic effectiveness of the training, accompanying and inclusion programs/actions in the local context;
validation by the local community of the training, accompanying and inclusion programs deployed in the framework of the newly build learning space;
positive feedback from the main actors in a Learning territory: beneficiaries and companies;
the degree of accessibility to the digital resources included in the Learning territory;c
reation and development of an easy-to-use e-learning space.
All these benchmarks can play the role of evaluation criteria for the progress of any community trying to be a social space of education and inclusion. Or they can be a measure of the capacity a region, district or city posses in order to become a Learning territory.
Besides the previous benchmarks and indicators, some specific criteria for evaluation of the effectiveness can be proposed for the newly built Learning territory in the South-East of Romania:
compatibility of the education and training subjects/orientations in the new Learning territory with the main tendencies in the local socio-economic environment;
shifting to the new technologies' areas, and development of the sectors favoured by the geographical position of the city/region as indicators showing the development of a new learning territory.
One can also define more specific indicators, meant to evaluate the way the actions in the new learning territory correspond to the features of the local context.
6. Concluding remarks
Learning territories' concept means to capture, model and package local know-how and resources into powerful frameworks for planning and implement life learning policies. In a word, learning territories are social spaces destined to sustain personal development and professional inclusion of people, by the instrumentality of well established action frameworks.
Last but not least, learning territories are organizational environments promoting education and social integration, with aim to bridge the gap between a community demand of life long and life wide learning and the local economic provision.
A Learning territory should comply with the idea of innovative, flexible solutions meant to make available to a relevant public, the paths towards social and professional inclusion. It should be a space where appropriate technology and methods are used to support local learning in order to provide the necessary means and services to bridge the gap between competence demand and provision. Learning territories should become the most powerful frameworks for understanding and planning learning policies in a geographical area, - district, county or region in a country.