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According to the European Council Recommendation on the European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships (2018 / C153 / 01), one of the criteria for working and learning conditions is “pedagogical support”, according to which “in-company trainers should be designated and tasked to cooperate closely with vocational education and training institutions and teachers to provide guidance to apprentices“. In addition, according to the same recommendation “teachers, trainers and mentors, especially in micro-, small and medium-sized companies, should be supported to update their skills, knowledge and competences in order to train apprentices according to the latest teaching and training methods and labour market need“. With this in mind, Business Innovation Center INOBRIDGE launched the i-Coach project: Innovative toolbox for internship implementation project. It is funded by the Erasmus + program and is implemented internationally in partnership with 6 other organizations from 5 European countries:

Belgian-Italian Chamber of Commerce, Belgium
ECOLE Vocational Training Center, Italy
A&A Emphasys Education Center, Cyprus
Business Foundation of the University of Zaragoza (FEUZ), Spain
Txorierri Polytechnic Center (PIT), Spain
Northeast Regional Development Agency (NERDA), Romania

The goal of the i-Coach partnership is to create a new professional occupation: the i-Coach expert, meant to take on the role of creating and leading internship programs in an organization. A role that is currently either completely missing or neglected by businesses, educational institutions and national policies. Companies often do not have experience in conducting an internship program, as it is possible that there is no dedicated employee to take responsibility for creating such a program. In other cases, it is simply not entirely clear what competencies they should have or what the correct understanding of mentoring and their role is.

Equally important is the issue of return on investment, i.e. how a given business can enable its organization to benefit from internships and mentoring and successfully integrate them into their work environment. While larger companies can afford to invest in training their staff to conduct quality internships, smaller companies cannot and would prefer to invest in more pressing needs. Thus, the long-term effect of having a special internship program, led by special staff, and the benefits of it remain virtually underestimated.

The problems addressed by the project are common both in the partnering countries and throughout the EU. The i-Coach project aims to address the above issues through the transfer of innovative knowledge, tools and practices based on knowledge of work-based learning processes, cooperation between relevant stakeholders and the use of ICT tools in these areas. The project envisages the creation of the following results and activities:

1) Professional profile of the i-Coach expert
This first project activity is the basis on which all other project activities will be laid. Through a mapping process, the partnership will explore and analyze all relevant factors that will lead to the successful creation of the i-Coach expert profile, namely: the specific characteristics, knowledge, skills and competencies that the i-Coach expert needs to possess. The understanding and status of internships and mentoring as a whole in the project partner countries will be studied. Stakeholders in the project will also be directly involved, namely businesses, educational institutions, as well as pupils and students in the form of round tables in order to specify the gaps in current practices for learning in a real environment. Based on the research, the expert characteristics of the i-Coach profile will be built. The research will also aim to identify the necessary skills and competencies to be transferred through the training course in the next phase of the project.

2) Development of the i-Coach training course
As part of this second activity of the project, the most important and tangible product will be created, namely the training tools to be used by the end-users to differentiate the role of the i-Coach expert in their own organization. The course will be based on research and real needs identified during the initial research activity and will be placed in a specialized online open-access training platform.

3) i-Coach model of cooperation
In the final third phase of the project, the i-Coach training course will be tested, and the i-Coach collaboration model will be developed. The activity is designed to make all the results of the project shared and is entirely dedicated to increasing the attractiveness of vocational education and training (VET) and complementing the flexibility of learning opportunities and most importantly – bringing innovation to the VET sector. The report is the culmination of the i-Coach project and will act as a plan and guideline for all relevant stakeholders. While promoting practical and real-world learning, the report will also explain exactly how to use and implement the i-Coach toolkit (based on pilot activities), why it should be used, what is its added value and what are the benefits of using it.

The operation of the i-Coach toolkit is expected to become a powerful tool for creating and managing internship programs, as well as supporting employees in their transition to this new role in their organization.

If you want to join the pilot training of the i-Coach project, as well as any other activity in the project or have specific inquiries related to it, feel free to contact Business Innovation Center INOBRIDGE and the project coordinators: Ayri Memishev (amemishev@rcci.bg) or Irena Ivanova (ivanova@rcci.bg).