SMARTS student competition, Latvia
The Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia launched a competition ‘SMARTS – A game for those who are in education’ aimed at introducing industrial relations, labour rights and safety at work issues and trade union activities to students in general education. The overall aim was to improve integration into the labour market after graduation from education. In its two years of operation, the measure directly involved teams from 119 classes in 77 general education schools, around 3,000 students in total. The project was part of the union’s permanent efforts to fight undeclared work, caused to some extent by weak knowledge of workers' rights and underestimating the significance of paying taxes.
The national level trade union, the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia (Latvijas Brīvo arodbiedrību savienība, LBAS) had conducted a competition SMARTS – A game for those who are in education aiming at introducing industrial relations, labour rights and safety at work issues and trade union activities to students in general education. The project falls within LBAS' permanent efforts to fight undeclared work, which has been caused in many ways by weak knowledge of workers' rights and the underestimating of the significance of paying taxes. LBAS, in cooperation with the VDI and Ministry of Welfare regularly conducts measures that are aimed at a better understanding of preferring declared work over undeclared work.
In the 2011 motivating measure, LBAS referred to Latvian statistics showing that 65% of accidents at work had affected those who had had worked less than three years. Among workers that had suffered in accidents, 30% were young workers aged 18–34. Young workers also suffered from violation of labour rights – for instance, employment contracts were not in writing, overtime work was not paid and casual firing occurred.
The project was started in 2011 and expanded to 2012. It was based on funding from the European Social Fund within the project, ‘Practical application of normative acts of labour relations and safety at work in sectors and undertakings’.
The objective of the measure was to provide competitiveness preferences to students of general education by increasing their awareness about labour rights and safety at work issues, as well as obtaining other skills that are useful for making a successful career, including teamwork and self-presentation skills.
The defined tasks of the two-year SMARTS – A game for those who are in education competition measure included:
- to increase interest and comprehension of the skills and knowledge necessary to start a successful career among students in general education;
- to increase interest and comprehension about labour rights and safety at work among students of general education before they start employment,
- to facilitate the recognition of trade unions among young people.
The measure SMARTS – a game for those in education included a competition and supplementing measures.
Students of grades 1012 of the general education were invited to participate in the competition.
The competition was organised in three rounds with participants composed of a team representing a particular school.
In the first round participants were invited to answer 45 online questions regarding labour rights, safety at work, social dialogue and the role of trade unions. These questions were organised into three categories, easy, average complicated, very complicated. Each category included 15 questions: six on employment legal issues, six on safety at work issues and three on social dialogue and trade union issues.
After the first round, the five best schools from the capital city Riga and one school from each of four statistical regions – Vidzeme, Zemgale, Kurzeme and Latgale – were invited to participate in the second round, a regional semi-final competition. In the semi-final the teams were reduced to the 10 best students who had obtained the highest grades in round one.
The regional semi-final competitions consisted of three parts – homework, a quiz and practical exercises for each of the teams. All participants were provided with training in labour rights and safety at work issues, 90 minutes on average for each team.
The third round – a national final competition – was represented by one school from each of four regions and Riga. The final consisted of two parts, a quiz and practical exercises for each team.
The regional semi-finals and national final were recorded and broadcasted on Latvian TV, giving regional schools and students the opportunity to demonstrate their skills at national level.
All winners of the competition received a Nokia 500 smartphone. The winning school received a portable projector, while the other four schools in the final received LVL 150 (€213) for their library funds.
In parallel with the project, both in 2011 and 2012, intensive work was done in advertising the measure. Animation clips on labour rights issues were shown in cinema and on TV.
LBAS organised the measure in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Science, supported by the Ministry of Welfare, the VDI and, in 2012, also LDDK.
The target group was students of the 10–12 grades of general education from all regions of Latvia. The participants were student teams and schools. A school could be represented by one or several teams.
Outcome of evaluations: lessons and conclusions
Achievement of objectives
Students, who agreed to participate in SMARTS game, had to prepare themselves for competition, thus ensuring achievement of the stated objectives.
After the first year of implementation the president of LBAS Pēteris Krīgers mentioned that participants of competition had become aware about their rights and obligations at work. He was convinced that participants were prepared to ensure fair relations with future employers. On 13 March 2012, when the 2012 competition was finished, Krīgers stressed that participants had demonstrated perfect knowledge of labour law and almost perfect knowledge in safety at work issues. The competition had been a good long-term investment for future employees. Also schools had recognised that the competition had been useful for young people. The increasing number of participants evidenced a growing interest.
Obstacles and problems
The main problems were timescales and the availability of audience. February/March, when the competition took place, is often characterised with influenza activity. There were cases when teams and schools could not attend the competition because they were not able to field a complete full team due to sickness.
The other obstacle was high competition from other projects, because students of general education had a choice of projects on different topics and purposes.
The first lesson is, that activities like this competition should be organised as a long-term measure. During the first year, a lot of effort was spent on introducing the idea. In the second year, when results of the measure became evident, more schools were ready to participate, so that measure could be successfully expanded.
The second lesson is that it is useful to produce effective study materials. Within the project, a brochure-handbook for the potential employee was produced in which the main issues of labour relations and safety at work were explained in simple language. LBAS and schools appreciated the brochure, and it was used also in VDI.
The third lesson concerns interactivity and the attractiveness of the measure for young people. For instance, students appreciated videos on labour rights and safety at work issues and they took part in the dissemination of these videos, thus becoming involved in informing their contemporaries.
In 2011, 42 classes from 30 schools (almost 1,000 students) participated in the first round of the competition. In 2011, the winner was the team from 10B grade of the Riga State Gymnasium No. 1.
In 2012, 77 classes from 47 general education schools (almost 2,000 students in total) of all regions of Latvia participated in the first round of the competition. The largest number of applications was received from Latgale – a region with the highest unemployment. The Riga and Vidzeme regions ranked second and the third regarding the number of applications.
The winner was the team from 11A grade of Iecava secondary school.
In 2011 and 2012, the competition was recorded and presented on TV in six programmes on LTV1 – the main state owned TV channel. In this way, a broader audience was approached, not only these who participated directly in the competition.
The measure may be applied in other Member States.
- Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia: www.lbas.lv
- Sigita Lapsiņa, Project Director at Hill + Knowlton Strategies.
- Ministry of Welfare: www.lm.gov.lv
- State Labour Inspectorate (VDI): www.vdi.gov.lv
Raita Karnite, EPC Ltd.