The Find your way to the world of work project is funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Youth Employment.
„We’ll have a Romanian test tomorrow.” „I don’t understand chemistry.” „It’s cold in the boarding school.” „I’m learning Latin on the corridor, covered in a blanket at dawn. It’s a dead language, it’s meaningless. But the mark you receive after a test will be counted to the average of your high school results, added to the average of your graduation exam results, and they will all count at the university admission.” „I feel the pressure again!” My stomach churns at the sight of another university rep. Every occasion settles on my soul like a weight and strengthens my doubts: I don’t have a clue what to study next, I don’t know what career to choose, which are my strengths, or am I even good at something, anyway?” – many young people are struggling with similar thoughts. They are alone. Or so they think.
But many of them have already met the mentors: those nice young people who came from Caritas Alba Iulia and visited them on their head-teachers’ classes. They reassured them, that confusion is not a shame; that they should, in fact, must take action for better self-awareness, in order to form the basis of a career path. They introduced themselves as youth mentors who work in the framework of the Find Your Way to The World of Work project in three Transylvanian settlements: Odorheiu Secuiesc, Gheorgheni and Tîrgu Mureș. It`s not just their duty, but their vocation to help young people in developing their self-awareness, furthering their education, choosing their career path and finding a job. Alexandra Benedek, Norbert Tókos, Zsuzsa Szabó, Éva Bojoievschi and Áron Székely are the career-guidance advisors of the programme, who are supported in their work by Imola Füzi project-coordinator, Hajnal Ambrus professional consultant and Gyöngyvér Sántha child protection professional.
What do their jobs consists of? Through what kind of activities and methods do they help young people, professionally called mentees, find their career path? Discussions with Imola Füzi, Hajnal Ambrus and Gyöngyvér Sántha reveal that the mentors’ activities rely on two major pillars: on developing one’s hard skills and soft skills. In the first category belong, for example, the language learning skill, the gift of speaking or logical thinking. While as part of the second category we can mention, for instance, the problem-solving skill, conflict- or time management. There is a third, supportive pillar, too: weekly and monthly meetings, professional consultations and supervisions with the project-manager, professional consultants and outsider psychologists, who help mentors with their objective points of view.
The mentors cited individual consulting, group and club activities, self-awareness tests, skill development games, excursions, career camps, company visits, meetings with future employers, City Tour among their professional methods.
The first meeting with the mentors takes place in nine secondary schools in Odorheiu Secuiesc, Gheorgheni, Tîrgu Mureș and their surroundings. As a first step they present the project and its possibilities at head-teachers’ classes. All interested young people are invited to free individual consultings at Caritas House or at Gemma Book Café, which is their fellow partner. During these personal discussions they analyze young people’s skills, and motivate them to better understand themselves through self-awareness tests and games.
Later they involve young people in group activities and clubs, where they can experience that they are not alone with their difficulties, strengthen their values and self-worth, learn communication, teamwork and conflict management, and last, but not least, they can have fun.
Excursions and career camps serve these goals as well, with an added bonus of trying certain crafts under the guidance of professionals. During career camps, young people gain an insight into cooking and baking, they can steal baristas’ techniques of drawing winding plants from milk foam in coffee, hairdressers and manicurists teach them to create different hair and nail wonders, mountain rescuers and health care nurses present them the bases of assistance, they can practice photography and film making techniques with professionals.
In camps young people can decide, based on their gained experiences, whether they have skills to the professions they tried, whether they have inspiration, motivation, patience and joy to those crafts, or are they interested in totally different work areas. These experiences are the best career guidance signals.
Young people are given the opportunity to meet certain professions not only in career camps, but during company visits, too. From the fall of 2021 till the summer of 2022, for instance, they could gain an insight into the activities of a receptionist, waiter, barista and cleaning lady at Septimia and Küküllő Hotel in Odorheiu Secuiesc. They could attend a tent production process at Cetate Production, a tent production factory. They could learn to cook and bake from professionals at Boro-Info Baking Academy at Odorheiu Secuiesc. A team of young adults from Gheorgheni visited „Egyed-I Hegesztés Akadémia” – a welding company – , „Csavargyár” – a screw manufacturing company – , and the construction crew of Larix Studio. At Tîrgu Mureș professionals from Fomco Wood showed wood processing; workers from „Üvegcentrum” – a glass manufacturing company – , the glass production process.
In parallel with these activities, mentors teach young people how to write a Curriculum Vitae and a motivation letter, prepare them for a job interview, and show them job searching strategies with the help of a human resource manager.
Meet your future employer! – this is the name of the event that allows young adults to meet company leaders. At Tîrgu-Mureș, for example, young people were able to talk with the representatives of a meat processing company, a construction material merchandising company, a restaurant, a fast food restaurant, a beauty salon, and a non-governmental organization. As a result of these conversations, two girls were offered summer jobs at Sólyom Restaurant: they are selling ice-cream right now.
Mentors said, they didn’t organize these events for the sole purpose of bringing together young people with company leaders and get some job offers, but to create a leisurely-friendly atmosphere in which they can freely discuss with company representatives and leave their shyness behind. Mentors added: they often see fear and lack of self-confidence in young people. One of their most interesting method, the City Tour, is based on this recognition.
They noticed, that those young adults who came from rural environments or orphanages were hesitant to travel in a bigger city. As it turned out, they didn’t know the city and its travelling possibilities, or they didn’t know or dare speak Romanian. Due to this recognition, mentors organized city adventures for a little group of young people from rural environments, for which mentees had to travel to Tîrgu Mureș. Here, they had to get to the police and post office by local transport, they had to take out their high school diplomas, obtain a background check from the police station which certifies their unpunished life, and send a classic postcard to their friend from the post office.
In order to be able to travel smoothly in town, young people learned to use the Moovit application and the use of Google Translate to fill forms and ease communications in Romanian. They gathered in groups, followed previously planned routes, took photographs at the locations where they arrived, and sent them to the mentors, so that they can be easily found in case they got lost. At the end, they met at a previously settled place. They received a small amount of pocket money, which they had to use wisely, in order to cover their bus ticket and lunch, as well. All the while keeping an eye on the clock too, so they could catch their last travelling opportunity home. This way they learned to plan, use tools, work in groups and manage their time and money in a playful way. At the end of their adventures, they evaluated their experiences. Many young people said: they are not so scared of visiting a big town anymore, and now they would have the courage to do it alone. But beside the boost of self-confidence and courage, many young adults managed to achieve outstanding results with the help of the mentors.
Some of them share their stories about the advantages they experienced in the programme and their future plans:
„I had to move away from my home village, because there was no school, no work opportunities and my parents were divorced, too. It was hard to be alone. In all those three years I went to school, one of my biggest fears was that I would fail a subject. Unfortunately, it happened once. I was also afraid that I wouldn’t have a place to live and find a job in the country. Ever since I joined the programme, I was able to participate in camps, meet people and learn Romanian better. I received support to go to the dentist. Thanks to the programme, I finished school and found a job. I recently passed my vocational exams and now I am officially a car mechanic. I have been working in my profession for a month and a half and I love my job. At the moment the programme contributes to my housing, so that I can continue living and working in Gheorgheni. I would like to enroll for an evening course in interior design. This takes two years. After that, I can take my final exams. Then I want to get a driver’s license, buy a car and a house. I would like to work abroad.” (Barna)
„When I went to school, transportation was my biggest problem. Traveling by bus was too expensive, so I commuted by train. I got up at 5.30 a.m., walked four kilometers to the station and the same distance back, every day. It was exhausting. I regretted not moving to a boarding school, because then I wouldn’t have had to travel so much and I could have had more fun. I could have gone to folk dance classes, played football and badminton. Thanks to the programme, I was able to take extra math lessons, which I really needed, otherwise I wouldn’t have passed my final exams. Beside this I managed to get to know myself better. Mostly because of the conversations I had with the mentors, but also because of the self-awareness tests, board games and vocational camps where I could try out different professions. I don’t know yet what I want to learn in the future, but I do know what I don’t. Beauty industry, for example, is not for me. I am interested in environmental protection. I love the nature and try to take care of its purity. I pick up the rubbish when I see it lying around. I admit that there was a time when I was littering. I also like numbers, and I like working with people. I would like to have a job where I can add something to the world. I would like to go to a university, but I don’t know yet which faculty to choose. I would like to move to Cluj Napoca. It seems scary, but cool at the same time. In the summer I would like to do some seasonal work: waitressing or sales, because they are in demand. But I would also like to go to camps. I would like to learn to drive a car.” (Csilla)
„I joined the programme because it offered support and development opportunities. On the first hand it showed me the importance of caring and listening to each other; that there is something good in everyone, including me; that blossoming is not a sin; that it is okay to belong to a community, to be open, accepting and accepted. At the same time, I had the opportunity to finish a hairdressing course, which is the first step towards the life I want to live. In the future I would like to work in my own beauty salon and publish my book.” (Blanka)
„I wanted to find a job. I thought that was the only thing mentors did. Then I found that there were way more opportunities in the programme. When I couldn’t go to school, one of my biggest fears was that I would miss out on something I would find difficult or impossible to catch up on later. I had the opportunity to meet new people in the thematic clubs and camps where I gained experiences that will be useful in life. During individual conversations and other programmes, I had the opportunity to set new goals and get to know myself better. I learned communication, camera handling techniques, CV writing, job searching strategies and I prepared for job interviews. I have improved my self-awareness, increased my self-esteem and I am mindful of valuing others. I have bigger and bigger plans, such as working abroad as an Au Pair, travelling, meeting new cultures, volunteering.” (Noémi)
„I joined the programme, because I found it very interesting. Friends have told me that they went on trips frequently, the companionship is very good, and one can learn a lot. They were right. The project enabled multi-faceted development in the fields of communication, getting to know people, working in a team, adaptation and acceptance. Whenever I went to activities, I always learned something new and met people. I know that all these experiences and contacts will benefit me in the future. I would like to graduate and get a very good, secure job.” (Dániel)
They also explained what it’s like to be young today.
„I think, there are a lot of opportunities for young people in Europe today, including jobs and projects. Everyone lives differently, but if one would like to work, can find a job. At the beginning it’s hard, but if you have the drive, the strength and the will, you can progress. It’s hard when you have no place to live and earning a living is a constant problem. Another difficulty for many of us is the lack of experience and poor language skills.” (Barna)
„In my opinion, young people today are not in their best period. They are always staring at their phone screens. I find that there is little physical contact in between people. We become more and more absorbed by the digital world without noticing how deep we are. Today for young people it’s important to earn a lot of money in a short time with little effort. Hard school subjects and the graduating exams are some other difficulties.” (Dániel)
„Today, a young person has to meet a lot of expectations. They are expected to behave like an adult, to know what they want, where they would like to continue their studies, what kind of profession they want to choose. In a short time, under serious pressure, we are supposed to make important decisions we are not ready for. We do not know enough about ourselves or our educational options. We are alone in this situation. Luckily, there are mentors! Without them, I would never ever thought to go to a university. There are some universities whose representatives visit the secondary schools and present their institutions’ faculties, indeed, but their number is so low. Beside this, the majority of them hold the presentations in Romanian, which many people barely understand. This is also a difficulty for many young people.” (Csilla)
„Europe offers many opportunities for young people to travel and develop. But in terms of work, it is difficult for a young person without experience: they earn low wages, they find it difficult to support themselves and hardly have any time for fun and rest.” (Noémi)
„I think it’s hard to be a young person today, yet an invaluable condition. This programme has been the best opportunity for me so far!” (Blanka)
The examples mentioned above are just a taste of the success stories of those young adults who undertook the challenge of voicing their feedback. There are way more young people behind the scenes. There are certainly many 15–29 years olds who go by unnoticed by the mentors, who are unaware of their values and skills, and who don’t know where to continue their studies or what career to choose. They are the target group of the Find Your Way to The World of Work project, funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Youth Employment. The project was initiated in 2019 with the aim of helping young people, who for whatever reason don’t go to school, don’t attend a course anymore, eventually they drop out from the educational system, or they are just a few steps away from leaving school, and they don’t have a job yet, either. The programme will end in April 2023, but hopefully youth mentoring will still remain among Caritas’s services.
Andrea Árkosi and Júlia Orbán
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