Léargas is the national agency for managing international and national exchange programmes for all education sub-systems, including the post-secondary non-tertiary sector, where most vocational education and training (VET) occurs in Ireland, but not higher education. The agency is owned by the Department of Education and Skills.
In September 2018, Léargas presented the findings of its research Impact study on Erasmus+. This research examined the impact of Erasmus+ work placements on vocational education and Training (VET) learners. The core objective was to analyse the changes that these work-based placements bring about for VET learners, and the impact on their sending organisations. Overall, 36 projects were assessed, representing over 80% of the 44 VET-mobility related projects that had been funded through Léargas between 2014 and 2016. Within the duration of the research more than 1,200 VET learners from Ireland travelled to countries across Europe for work placements funded by Erasmus+. The vast majority (92%) lasted less than a month. Learners came from vocational organisations (primarily in education and training boards) across Ireland, and almost three-quarters were in their first year of study.
The findings showed that even short-term placements improved professional competences, intercultural skills, and the personal confidence of learners. The placements also had benefits for the vocational organisations that arranged them: closer connections with employers, increasing international connections, motivating staff, and attracting new learners.
The findings also indicate a positive evaluation by the key beneficiaries, the VET learners. They reported significant improvement in their own skills and competences, such that their employability prospects increased. The most commonly reported skills include independent learning, team working and problem solving. VET learners also felt their chances of obtaining a new or better job had increased because of their placements abroad; in many cases they even received offers of employment from, or went on to work with, their host employers.
Most participating VET organisations in Ireland (95%) expressed satisfaction when asked about Erasmus+ mobility projects with a specific focus to work placements. VET staff who had participated in these projects said they had learned from their colleagues in host countries and that good practices were exchanged. VET organisations also indicated that they had formed strong institutional partnerships, improving relationships between VET organisations and employers both at home and abroad, and developed better communication with their learners.
The report concluded that Irish VET organisations have expressed the need for a network where they can exchange information with each other. Finally, it recommends a follow-up study of VET learners to trace their paths since their placement and explore questions of study progress, transition to work, use of learned competences in the workplace or in other learning activities, current occupation, and bonds to European programmes such as Erasmus+.