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Intercultural training materials for migrant workers

On a construction site near the future Olympic village in east London, more than half of the workforce is Asian, about a third Central and Eastern European (including a large contingent of Bulgarians) and about 10% British.

In the canteen Sikhs sit with Sikhs, Lithuanians with Lithuanians and Brits with Brits. Communication is severely limited and it's not just language. Improving communication between communities at work is a major issue. Countries across the EU are experiencing the challenge of integrating migrant workers into their workplaces.

Now an EU iniative, the European Intercultural Workplace (EIW), addresses this challenge. Started by Dublin City University, the three-year project has a budget of $1.48m. It is one of the largest in the Leonardo da Vinci scheme, the EU mechanism for funding vocational education initiatives, and is part of the EU's current Year of Intercultural Dialogue.

The EIW involves vocational training centres and universities in 10 countries: Bulgaria, Finland, Greece, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and Britain. Each partner has produced a national situation report, drawing together migrant workers' views on integration plus details of how employers and governments respond. There are also case studies looking at local sectors such as construction, retail and education.

A series of booklets explore intercultural issues on a transnational level with analysis of smaller-sized businesses, healthcare and education workplaces across Europe. A fourth booklet, Overview of Legislation, explains the legal situation in different countries. These reports are all available from the project website.

The data collected is impressive, but what will be of practical benefit to those working in intercultural communication – often starved of suitable teaching resources – are the EIW project's workplace educational training materials. These are available as a DVD/print package called Europe at Work.

The materials have been written and produced by the UK project team, led by Professor Emeritus Jack Lonergan of the University of Westminster. They have followed a critical incident methodology which presents scenarios on DVD and follow-up materials that promote discussion of possible solutions rather than providing a single answer.

"The scenarios have been scripted to focus on one specific issue which allows easy transfer to many similar situations. They have been filmed nowhere but apply anywhere," says Professor Lonergan.

One unit is called Appearance and reflects the issue of Muslim women wearing the veil at work. Seema, a Muslim accounts clerk, is selected for promotion by her human resources manager, Miss Tate. However, Miss Tate advises Seema that wearing a headscarf, or hijab, will not be appropriate in her more senior role. The scene plays out with Seema and Miss Tate's discussion.

Fourteen units, with accompanying print materials, deal with many areas of miscommunication at work between migrant and host-country workers. Most deal with the relations between bosses and staff concerning gender, religion, authority, time, race, qualifications and relationships.

Others deal with language issues such as failure to communicate, or being at a disadvantage because of language difficulties. One scene deals with body language. A young man is from a culture where he does not look elders in the eye out of respect for authority; he is suspected of dishonesty by a policeman because of his body language – his "shifty" manner.

The DVD scenarios make no recommendations and indeed come to no conclusions. It is for the work group to identify the issues, discuss possible solutions and come to an agreement.

The training manual supports the DVD scenario by helping viewers identify and understand the issues at stake and by inviting them to form their own opinions and discuss them with colleagues. An important part of each unit is the "What if... ?" scenes where students are taken through a series of situations and asked how they would deal with them. The accompanying best practice section suggests possible solutions that might be employed to resolve each situation.

Britain has a long history of migrants in the workplace, and therefore has experiences and expertise to share, but the EIW materials seek a wider perspective. Solutions found in Britain are not necessarily exportable and some issues may be dealt with more successfully elsewhere.

There is another spin off. Because of the immediacy of the issues, the naturalistic language and the subtitles in eight languages, the materials can also be used in language schools and colleges wanting workplace-based materials.

Original article from The Guardian
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