Foreword: Erasmus+ Project ITONBOARD

by Prof. Bernd Gössling

Up to now, internships have typically taken place at an office. Those who "go" to the internship physically change location. Learners leave the classroom to gain new experience, for example at a company workplace. In contrast, a remote internship, which takes place at a distance and where the interns stay at home, is hardly considered a real internship by many.

The common criticism of remote work placements is that there is a lack of opportunities for personal exchange, short walking distances to make arrangements or to get support for tasks that are being done independently for the first time; a lack of opportunities to feel part of the working community, a lack of space to share the experience of having done something together. This criticism could also be applied to remote work in general.

However, there are areas where remote working has been very successful for many years, especially in the IT sector. Companies with links to the open source community, which has always practised the remote working mode, are considered pioneers. Here, solutions have been developed to deal with the disadvantages which remote working can bring. There are companies that, due to positive experiences with different variants of remote working and home office, have already dispensed with fixed offices and space for face-to-face work for many years.

If these companies offer an internship, the same applies to the interns as to all other employees: Workplaces in presence are not available, digital communication and cooperation tools are used for collaboration. Instead of ad hoc arrangements in the open-plan office, there are fixed times for conversations via video conferencing systems for daily coordination, the conversation at a colleague's desk is, among other things, replaced by digital communication channels for direct communication. Staff management takes place via fixed video appointments for personal discussions, project management via transparent work organisation, for example with agile methods such as Scrum. Spaces for interpersonal interaction are created through "blended" elements, i.e. long-term, compact presence phases in which there is space for team development, comprehensive agreements and participation in far-reaching decisions.

Where blended remote working functions, it is not just because of a technical matter, but part of a lived corporate culture that takes up the needs and requirements of employees. A blended  remote internship can also become a rich work experience under such conditions.

This is where the ITonboard project comes into play. Experiences of companies that have been practising and developing innovative concepts for blended remote work for a long time are generalised and made available in a guideline to all those who, coming from a culture of presence work, want to further develop their corporate culture and work organisation in the direction of remote work. Thus, the project results are particularly relevant for those who have gained initial experience with remote internships as an emergency solution, especially during the lockdown phases caused by the pandemic, but are now unsure how they want to realign the relationship between working in presence and working remotely. In a very practical way, it is also discussed that common fears, such as productivity losses with remote work or negative effects of spatial and temporal flexibility on the employees themselves, do not have to come true.

It is about comprehensive issues that go far beyond the technical side of remote work and also address, for example, the design of work tasks in the internship, personnel management and corporate culture, the goals of an internship, the technical requirements as well as the already existing professional and interdisciplinary competences of the learners. The approaches developed in the ITonboard project are already relevant for many companies, especially in the IT sector, that cannot offer a face-to-face internship because they simply do not have a building to go to for work. A blended remote
internship is not a makeshift solution here, but the counterpart to a presence internship in a presence company.

The project results are therefore exciting for all those who are responsible for questions of training and recruiting young people in an environment of blended remote work. For those who are concerned with realigning the relationship between face-to-face and remote work in their company, the results can be a stimulus to look at new internship models and to further develop their own internship supervision.

About the person

Bernd Gössling holds the endowed professorship for business education with a focus on vocational education and training research at the Institute for Organisation and Learning at the University of Innsbruck. He studied business administration and business education at the University of Paderborn and the University of Potchefstroom, South Africa. After graduating, he worked in business development at an IT company in Norway. He then became a research assistant in business education at the University of Paderborn, where he completed his doctorate with distinction in 2013. In the following
post-doctoral phase, he became managing director of the Centre for Vocational Education and Training (CeVET) and took on substitute professorships for vocational and business education at the University of Osnabrück and at Leuphana University Lüneburg. Bernd Gössling researches at the interface of economics and pedagogy. His activities within VET research are directed towards core topics of business education with a special focus on in-company training, apprenticeship training, curriculum development and the change of VET institutions. The different research topics are linked by an interest in vocational teaching/learning processes and their didactic design. In his most recent research, he is investigating the implications of the digital transformation for methods and objects of VET, the connection between changes in the world of work and the qualification of skilled workers, as well as possibilities for innovation that arise for VET from the adaptations in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.