Developing remote working skills has become key for higher-education students to successfully find their place in an increasingly digitalised labour market. But are companies ready to support them in this important learning process?
These were two of the main focuses of the ON-IT webinar on The Challenge of Remote Working in Tourism: Reflections for Virtual Internships in Higher Education, held on 13 October 2022 in the framework of the annual celebration of the Erasmus Days.
Organised by the University of la Laguna in collaboration with the other partners in the ON-IT consortium, the webinar aimed at exploring the challenges and opportunities of remote working in the field of tourism, and how to provide virtual internships that can help students acquire the necessary digital competencies.
Moderated by Cristina Stefanelli from UNIMED, the discussion opened with a short overview of the ON-IT project and its goals offered by the project coordinator Gigliola Paviotti, from the University of Macerata. She explained that “our universities have to review their offer to prepare our students for a rapidly evolving labour market. The world of work has changed since the pandemic and ON-IT is trying to provide meaningful workplace learning paths to prepare students – thus, future workers – to this new digital reality.”
Elsa Rodríguez, a social entrepreneur specialised in sustainable tourism, focused then on The Importance of Remote Working in Tourism: The Experience of Pueblos
Remotos (Remote Towns), an initiative of which she is CEO and co-founder. Together with Gonzalo Fernández, also co-founder of Pueblos Remotos, she explained how this initiative aims at promoting experiences that connect remote workers and local entrepreneurs to generate knowledge exchange and a positive impact in rural environments on the Canary Islands.
Finally, Francisco García, from the University of La Laguna, presented the ON-IT protocol for online and hybrid internships in universities that has been developed by the consortium partners and is currently being tested through actual internships. The protocol covers the three main phases of the internship experience, namely preparation, implementation and evaluation. For each of them it provides useful tools and procedures to be adopted by students, company supervisors and university tutors to ensure a proper monitoring and successful outcome of the internship experience.
At the end of the piloting process, the ON-IT consortium will revise the protocol to adjust possible critical points and will publish all related materials and resources to be freely implemented by further universities in many different fields.
A closing discussion involving questions from the audience highlighted that, in order to be meaningful, virtual internships should take place at companies that have already developed a culture of remote working.
“The younger generations need to learn how to work remotely, but many companies have not yet truly shifted to this new working model, because it requires a whole and difficult change in the company culture” affirmed Elsa Rodríguez. “If students work with companies that are not prepared, it will be harder for them to get the necessary skills during their internship,” she concluded.
Francisco García reinforced this view by affirming that “the successful implementation of remote working is not a question of technology or size of the company, but it is rather a question of company culture.”As a closing remark, Cristina Stefanelli stressed the need to stop thinking about face-to-face and online working as two incompatible and mutually exclusive realities, and to rather focus on expanding opportunities offered by new hybrid models.
About the ON-IT project
The ON-IT – ONline Internship in Tourism project aims to develop a guidance framework and practical tools to design and implement quality online tourism internships in higher education. By actively engaging all actors involved in the internship experience, the ON-IT project focuses on equipping them with the necessary knowledge and skills to face the challenges of digital transformation in the labour market.
Co-funded by the Erasmus+ project of the European Union, the project gathers 7 partners from all over Europe, committed to explore the challenges and opportunities of remote work-based learning: the University of Macerata (Lead Partner, Italy); the University of La Laguna (Spain); JAMK University of Applied Sciences (Finland); Faculty of Tourism and Hospitality Management of the University of Rijeka (Croatia); Montpellier Business School (France); Mediterranean Universities Union – UNIMED (Italy); and IGCAT (Spain).