Shaping Director Stef Nienaltowski recently had the pleasure of catching up with Federica Bocciarelli, the Training Director at Training Vision, which is part of the ETN group. They are based in the heart of our city, and have been for many years. But as hidden gems often are, they were little known outside of their network and Stef was amazed to learn about the value they bring to Portsmouth.
Federica and her team bring around 1,300 foreign students a year into the city, and the support they give, and receive, is incredible. From the families that house these students, to the businesses that use their international experience, it is a great match.
Stef Nienaltowski: Good morning. I'm with Federica Bocciarelli, the Training Director at ETN [Education and Training Network] and one of our newest partners. Good morning, Federica.
Federica Bocciarelli: Good Morning, Stef.
SN: Federica, before we talk about the ETN organisation here, called Training Vision, can you tell me a little bit about yourself, and how you came to work in our beautiful city?
FB: Sure! I arrived here in Portsmouth in 2011, because actually I was a beneficiary of one of the European projects that at the time was called Leonardo Da Vinci. I'd done the selection in Italy, after my graduation in Human Resources, and then I won the scholarship, and Training Vision was the organisation that hosted me for my work experience here.
So, I arrived here, and then I started working at the Mary Rose, as it was before, obviously, not as beautiful as it is now! [laughs] I started working there in customer service, and after a while I realised I really enjoyed the place, the atmosphere there, but I was wondering if I could do more, actually, and enjoy Portsmouth even more, because I was sure there were a lot of experiences and a lot of new things which I could enjoy.
Then I asked Training Vision if I could join them and finish with them my experience, my year on the Da Vinci project. And that was it! It was supposed to be like three months, and now it's more than seven years! [Laughs]
SN: [Laughs] Well you're very welcome! Obviously Training Vision, as we call it here...
SN: ...in Portsmouth, offers an excellent opportunity to both employers, and of course the foreign students. So, can you tell me how the organisation got started, and what really are its aims?
FB: ETN actually started in 1996, over in Italy, the south of Italy, from an idea of our actual president whose name is Luciano Donato Marino, and the Vice President of ETN, his name is Francesco Di Bello. They started writing European projects. After they finished their graduation, they were like "OK, what can we do now?". Rather than being employed for a random company, they said "Let's do something. Let’s try to make a difference in our country." and so they started writing European projects.
The Training Vision, particularly, as part of ETN has been born in 2009 , here in Portsmouth. The reason it was born here was simply because, our President Luciano studied English in Portsmouth and he's got great memories about Portsmouth. He said it would be a perfect destination for our students. so that's how we were born.
What we do... well, actually, we work with European students. So, what does that mean? We host the students who are the beneficiary of an Erasmus+ grant. So, schools or institutions all over Europe, with a variety of European projects, we support them in writing, we give them ideas, we give them help in proper writing, then they submit their application. And then, if they are lucky enough, or their report is good enough, they pass that, and they've got the financial grant from the European Union.
And then we host them. We host them in here, in the UK. Like in Portsmouth, we've got another branch in Bournemouth, which is still called Training Vision. Then we've got other agencies around Europe. We are in Germany, we are in Bulgaria, we are in Italy, of course, we are in Spain, and also, we are thinking to expand our horizon to international, but it's too early to talk about that now! [Laughs]
SN: It's amazing, when you consider, just how many students you also bring in, and we'll talk about that a little bit later. But if we now turn it to the employer. So, if I'm an employer in Portsmouth, and I'm listening to this interview, how do I contact you, and what sort of things would your students do if they came to work for me?
FB: Well, we can collaborate in different ways. Of course, as I said, we host students, so first of all we are always looking for host families, we are looking for hotels, and we are looking for bed and breakfasts, or any sort of accommodation. We are looking for leaders. Sometimes we organise cultural visits outside Portsmouth during the weekend. So, a lot of people come in and say do you need any help? Well, a help can be being leader of our trips.
Obviously, we offer, as you are saying, work experience, so we are engaged with a lot of medium, but also big, businesses here in Portsmouth. You can just come to us, or we can come to you, if you need a student for a work placement, and we offer the help of a European student. So, from the company side, it's free. Our students are insuranced, and there is no commitment. When I say no commitment, I mean that we do not oblige any employer to take out a student, just say "give it a go!". Maybe it will work, maybe that's not the right student, and you need to change students, so we're more than happy to create an open relation with our partners and then evaluate every time if the student suits the company, or if there is any problem we are here for helping them.
Work experience, as I said, is for free. It's a good way for internationalising the company, because of course you get different mother tongue speakers, you've got different skills. Students are really enthusiastic, generally speaking, when they are coming over, so they really want to make an effort, want to test themselves, want to try to do different things. So, it can be, also, obviously an added benefit to any company.
SN: And approximately, how many weeks could that work experience be?
FB: Let's say that the average is about four weeks, but we've got students for shorter, for about two weeks, or also longer, for about three months. It really depends on their project.
SN: So really, the message is to the employers... because these are highly skilled, and highly motivated students...
FB: Yeah, definitely.
SN: ...is get in touch with Training Vision here, and see if you can actually supply them with some good people, yeah?
FB: Definitely! Definitely.
SN: So, try it! OK, so you mentioned there the families, and I was fascinated by this when I first met you. You actually have families who open up their houses to students, don't you?
FB: Definitely, yes. We are working with around 90 host families, more or less, here in Portsmouth.
SN: Wow. And the family, again, for the time the student is here, will offer them a bed and some food, and I think they get paid for that from you, don't they?
FB: Yes, of course. So, they've got a rate, and what we ask to our host families, of course to welcome the students in their home, and of course prepare for them food, like meals, breakfast, you know, whatever, and engage a bit with them because, of course, for foreign people coming over it's like culture. They see the British life within their eyes while they are here, and that's making a great experience for them.
SN: Indeed, and again, same message as the employers, if a family is out there listening, saying "I'd like to help" just get in touch, and you will take it from there, yeah?
FB: They can give us a call, and they can call us at our main office in Portsmouth, or they can email us. We have got two professional figures in our office. One is a Student's Welfare Officer, who is taking care just about the host family, and then one is the Work Placement Officer, who's taking care just about the work experience and then the host company. They can call us and then they will be passed through these main ladies, these key contacts! And then we will start from there.
SN: Fantastic. Now, I had one other key question I'd like to ask you.
SN: You talked earlier about the growth of your organisation, and you've alluded to maybe some international plans further down the line. But what do you think Brexit will have as an effect, if any, on our relationship between ETN and the Portsmouth city?
FB: Right. Til now, Brexit has already affected some of our students coming over here because families are worried. They are starting thinking "Well, why do we need to send my student to England, when England doesn't want us?". And so, I mean, something has already started changing. I think that, since the time I'm here, actually, in Portsmouth, I never find somebody who was reluctant to talk with me or to deal with us, or to deal with Training Vision because it was foreign. Actually, it was the opposite way around. So, I do believe that if the Erasmus+ carries on, or if we are putting our services on an international level, and we will host here students from the international side, I believe that here in Portsmouth we wouldn't find any major difficulties. That's what I really think.
SN: Thank you for becoming a Shaping partner. I am looking forward to working with you over the coming months. And for today, thank you very much indeed.
FB: Thank you, my pleasure!