Successful Leonardo Da Vinci Project within the dairy sector at the conference in Nice
"I really enjoy knowing that I have an European network of friends and colleagues, that I can contact whenever I need to". "If I have a problem that involves matters within the dairy field in another European country - well, then I simply send an e-mail to one of my new European colleagues - we are doing it now and it has made Europe smaller and more meaningful to me".These are the words of the 23-year old dairy technician Franz-Josef Mühlgrabner from Austria. He was one of the 16 European "test pilots" that accomplished a three-week course in Denmark in the month of August. The other participants came from Denmark, Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and Poland.The encouraging words were spoken at the conference held by the Danish Leonardo Project in Nice on 23rd November 2002. The conference in Nice had attracted about 35 educational experts from 12 European countries. Persons who work with educational questions within the European dairy sector every day. The participants wanted to learn about the results of the Leonardo Project that Dalum Technical College has been leading throughout the last two years. During this period the project has developed a whole new European Supplementary Education and at the same time completed a test course for 16 European dairy technologists at Dalum Technical College.
Crisis within the European Dairy Educations
It was made clear at the conference that there is a certain atmosphere of crisis among the persons responsible for the dairy educations. Apparently several educations suffer from very difficult conditions these years. Aggravating economical terms are strongly contributing to the fact that the technical dairy element is loosing ground within the educations. The European dairy educations are reduced to general "food-educations" with specific technical dairy lines. The situation is paradoxical because the demand for technical dairy knowledge in several countries is increasing. You might say that the educational systems cannot "provide the goods" for the industry. At this somewhat sinister background the participants welcomed the Leonardo Project's new Supplementary Education with great enthusiasm.The industry found it very interesting that this education represented exactly the technical issues that are now being undermined in the national educations. The participants therefore found it very important that the new educational structure would start exactly with the actual needs of the industry. They said that focussing on special product groups would create the necessary interest from the companies.
The ambitious project has had a big European back up
The project has had ambitious goals and the European network of educational persons within the dairy sector - also called AEDIL - has supported the project very actively under the management of Assistant Director Jørgen Maltha Rasmussen, who is AEDILs current President. A total of 8 European countries have participated in the project - also countries outside the EU. The following countries have participated actively in the development of the new European education: Denmark, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France, Poland and Luxembourg. Representatives from each country's educational system have formed the management group of the project. Originally it was AEDIL that took the initiative in forming the project. In addition the project has had a so-called group of experts with six persons from Denmark, Switzerland, France, Germany and Austria.
A new educational structure
The project has developed a new European Supplementary Education for dairy technologists. Both the content and the structure of the education are composed in a new way. It is an education where the European dimension is the basic element. The idea is that the educations must be adjusted to the structure adaptation, that the European dairy sector is going though these years - with focus on larger companies, production units and an increasing internationalisation. The education consists of a basic course and a number of special courses. The basic course is build on the national fundamental education but in an extended form - with elements as EU legislation, cultural understanding, marketing and communication. The special courses have a concentrated focus on one product area - e.g. "Italian cheese". The chosen product will be studied in the European country that has a special expertise and tradition within production of exactly that product.
The Supplementary Education is innovating in a range of areas. The companies that choose to send participants must also appoint a mentor within the company. It is the mentor's job to support the student and at the same time see to that the company gets "full value". The educational structure makes it possible for the company to get influence on the educational course. Among other things the company helps to elaborate and later on evaluate the project work, made by the students at the end of their educational course. Another new thing is that the participants must meet on the net in between courses. The participants have formed "Learning Groups" with participants from several countries and the project has plans for preparing part of the education as distance e-Learning. To start with all participants must have a theoretic background that lies between dairyman and dairy technologist. The project has also decided that the participants must have 2 years of practical work experience from the dairy sector or similar branches in order to be accepted. The European Commissary shows high interest for education and culture For the moment there are about 2.000 active Leonardo Projects in Europe. In the nature of the case it is therefore seldom that the European Commissary for education and culture shows interest for each individual project. For that reason everybody was pleased to see that the Commissary personally attended the last management group meeting of the project in Luxembourg. In her speech to the project Vivian Reeding underlined that this project was very visionary. She felt, that the idea behind the project would serve as an example of "best practice" from which others could learn a lot. The project had all of the elements that the Commission would like it to have. She asked the management of the project to keep her personally informed about the development of the project - and in her closure she invited representatives from AEDIL to Brussels to discuss new cooperation possibilities between AEDIL and the Commission. The goal of the conference in Nice was primarily to present the participants to the achieved results and on that background start a debate for the future dairy educations in Europe.
The participants - potential international leaders
The European dairy industry needs competent young people that are internationally mobile and open to other cultures. Several of the participants said that the new education could be used to "spot and develop" employees with leadership potential.The evaluation from the basic course at Dalum Technical College showed that the participants were very satisfied. The professional level was high and the numerous visits to companies had left the participants with positive experiences. But the participants also bring back other experiences. For three weeks they have stayed with young people from all over Europe discussing subject areas, different traditions and cultural differences. They have established friendships across borders - both professionally and personally. There is no doubt that several of these young people will meet again - maybe in leading positions.
E-Learning is the future
As to the special courses, several of the participants underlined that the length of the courses probably would be a problem. Four weeks are a very long time to do without an employee. In order to minimize this temporal barrier it was suggested that the education was replaced with e-Learning elements. It is easy to imagine students studying from their homes using the possibilities provided by the web-based courses. Several of the participants actually thought that the courses would improve if they were put on the Internet.
The project goes on
The Leonardo Project conference in Nice was a big success. Mainly because the main results produced by the project, correspond to the expectations within the European dairy sector. Naturally some things need to be adjusted - that is the way it is with development projects. It would be strange if there were no adjustments to be made. The most important is that all of the participants at the conference expressed a very big hope for the continuation of the project in some way or another. Without this strong backup the project would pass away like so many other projects. However, this will not happen to this Leonardo Project.