The new study examined the effects of international youth work in the context of vocational education
- on young people’s mobility in terms of more frequent participation in international contact programmes,
- on their interest in living, learning and working abroad,
- on their interest in career opportunities abroad, international assignments and educational opportunities with an international focus,
- on their choice of study programme, career, willingness to take part in training and further education, and their personal development generally.
In the past ten years since Prof. Thomas and his team conducted the long-term effect study (LIJAP for short) in 2005, a number of changes have occurred in society, in the media world and in youth work. Reason enough to carry out another empirical study that examines new questions.
Significance of study for youth policy
Before an audience of around 50 to 60 international youth work practitioners and researchers, Hans-Peter Bergner, managing director of Stiftung Deutsche Jugendmarke e.V., started his welcome speech by referring to the unanimous vote of the foundation's meeting of members to support the study and recalling the important findings of the previous LIJAP study. However, he added, that study had not examined the effects of international contact programmes on the career entry and development of young persons, neither educational effects. In light of the problems associated with the school/apprenticeship/job transition and the question as to what positive influence non-formal educational opportunities can have in this context, the current research project deals with a central issue for European and international youth work, stressed Hans-Peter Bergner. He explicitly reiterated his organisation’s expectation that the outcomes of the study be disseminated as widely as possible among partners and multipliers both at home and abroad.
Study structure and exemplary results
Heike Abt (IKO-Institut Regensburg) and Prof. Siegfried Stumpf (Technology Arts Sciences TH Cologne) from Prof. Alexander Thomas's research team presented the most important results of the empirical study. The study evaluated 321 questionnaires that were completed online by individuals who had participated in international exchange and contact programmes at least three years previously, many of them much further back. The evaluation revealed numerous suggestions, interesting correlations and new outcomes. Heike Abt outlined a number of major items that had received particularly high levels of agreement or were assignable to distinct sub-groups, and presented some of the most notable results:
- International mobility was stimulating in many different respects. Participants showed an increased interest not just in future international mobility activities, but also in social and virtual mobility. Persons who had spent time abroad felt motivated to make new contacts in their own local communities and to develop a stronger virtual international network.
- Individuals who gained experience abroad while training in-company or attending a vocational school felt more confident towards customers and were encouraged to work in international areas. 85% of participants attending vocational schools said that their international experience served them well when applying for jobs.
- The results of the LIJAP study on personal qualities and skills (self-awareness, self-confidence, self-efficacy/self-esteem) were convincingly and impressively endorsed. The responses to several questions confirmed a clear increase in professional motivation and empowerment.
Professionally relevant knowledge and openness to other cultures or immigrants also increased as a result of periods spent abroad.
In addition to the predominantly positive aspects, the study – like the previous LIJAP study – also examined the non-intended effects of stays abroad by evaluating the interviews and the responses to the questionnaire (negative experiences, wrong host family, stress, etc.). However, these should not be seen as generally negative, since 98.4% of respondents considered their stay abroad to have been "important" for them personally.
What was "measured"?
Prof. Stumpf then elaborated on Ms Abt's comments and introduced the study's scale patterns. Seven scales were generated from over 100 items to examine the research subjects:
- foreign language skills,
- intercultural communication skills,
- belief in personal self-efficacy,
- professional empowerment, and
- personal significance.
The evaluation of the empirical data focused on finding out which explanatory factors for the differences in scale ranges are measureable, and if so, how this can be explained.
Key findings of the study
The empirical analysis revealed the following key correlations and outcomes:
International experience is also of great personal importance in the biographies of respondents with a vocational educational focus;
- Irrespective of their educational focus, respondents felt that stays abroad helped to maintain an openness to people with different cultural backgrounds;
- From the point of view of respondents, the effects on mobility are less pronounced than on other attitudes/skills;
- The effects on international mobility and virtual mobility are less pronounced for respondents from vocational schools than for high school students;
- Respondents rated the effects on professional development (e.g., confidence in one’s career performance, motivation for one’s professional development ...) positively, with these effects more important for respondents from vocational schools than for high school students;
- The perceived effects on skills/attitudes and personal relevance are stronger the longer the scheme lasts. However, this does not mean that short-term measures are ineffective!
During the following panel discussion, Heike Abt (IKO Regensburg), Rita Steegen (Pädagogisches Institut München), Dr. Werner Müller (transfer/Researchers'-Practitioners' Dialogue), Prof. Alexander Thomas (Universität Regensburg), Rebekka Hof (Mobility Counselling Service at Düsseldorf Chamber of Small Industries and Skilled Trades) and Rolf Witte (Bundesvereinigung Kulturelle Kinder- and Jugendbildung) assessed what they considered to be the most important findings of the study. There was a general consensus that the reported results, properly presented, will be a convincing tool for arguing the point in many different fields, e.g., in schools and in industry. However, that was not the only topic of discussion. Several panellists stressed how significant it was that international exchange has been proven to clearly promote professional and personal empowerment. They noted that companies are often unaware of this, and that awareness-raising is an important future task. Prof. Thomas, who considers the study to be scientifically and methodically sound despite a number of shortcomings, summarised the need for action. "The results of this important study need to be communicated to everyone in society who is responsible for preparing the next generation to enter working life," he urged.