Realisation • 21 February 2022

Tavistock Institute teaches group work skills to low-skilled young jobseekers

Low-skilled people lack sometimes the skills to work in a group. The British Tavistock Institute has developed a training method to help them improve their skills. Inspiring!

Many young and low-skilled jobseekers lack the basic skills to find their way onto the labour market. The London-based Tavistock Institute of Human Relations wants to address this with experiential training, as staff members Mannie, Rachel, and Elyce explain.

Mannie Sher: “Our training fits into a programme of basic engineering skills offered by MidKent College. Young people with little schooling are trained there to be welders, for instance. During the first four weeks of their training, they follow one of our sessions for one day a week; after that, they do an eight-week work placement in a company, during which we monitor them intensively. We have just started with the fourth cohort of trainees."

Rachel Kelly: “The trainees are selected by job coaches of the Department of Work and Pensions. Most of them would be referred to as NEET: Not in Education, Employment or Training – a challenging audience.”

Mannie: “We try to teach them soft skills, things such as teamwork, resilience, showing up on time, following instructions, accepting the authority of a boss or a mentor, finding your place in a group... They have great difficulty with that. Often they are school-leavers with problematic home situations and low self-esteem. As a result, they sabotage their own chances time and again. They have simply been told too often that they are not good enough.”

Elyce Cole: “Our training methods often employ experiential learning – learning through reflection on doing. Instead of the trainees learning from a teacher, we make space for the learning to emerge from the trainees directly. In a typical exercise, they are divided into smaller groups and given a task; but we don't tell them how to go about it, such as which roles are needed. Usually, early on, either one or two leaders will emerge, or leadership will be shared across the group. Which, as we know, is true in real work life, so they learn from the simulation. In the end, we ask them to reflect on their individual experience of the group and what role they may have played, knowingly or unknowingly.”

Mannie: “The first time we organized the training, the group was actually too big - about 25 people. This created a negative dynamic, and some participants left. We then made the groups smaller. We also adapted our approach. These kids are often shy, afraid of being rejected, of not being heard... It’s not enough to give them ways to cope with all this, we have found. You have to try and get them to talk about, and learn from, past experiences. We use all kinds of games and group activities for that.”

Rachel: “Still, it remains challenging. A 12-week training course is really too short - this is also shown by European research. You should really follow them up for 12 months, in small groups or even one-on-one. That’s quite labour-intensive, obviously. But only then can you give them 360-degree support, in all areas of their lives. And that’s the only way to make real progress.”