Future skills: Helping women get along in the job market

Caroline Tosal-Suprun Gender, Participation and Leadership, Women's Economic Empowerment

Caroline Tosal-Suprun reflects on a recent workshop, co-developed by Oxfam and the Co-operative Bank, as part of our work to improve women’s access to work in the UK. 

Future Skills is an Oxfam project tackling poverty in the UK. It places women from marginalised communities as volunteers in one of our high street shops for six months. Through the programme, the women increase their retail and transferable skills, build their confidence, and put themselves on a pathway to employment or the next positive step in their lives. Volunteers are additionally matched with a professional mentor to identify and progress towards personal goals.

“What a fantastic group of women intent on being the best they can be.” Joss Sargent.

As part of the project, the women attend monthly personal development workshops on topics such as leadership, assertiveness and employability skills. This month the workshop focused on careers advice. I worked with Joss Sargent, head of Internal Communications at the Cooperative Bank to design and deliver the training. The Bank is one of the project’s sponsors and has provided funding for 10 women to go through the programme. In addition to this they have offered their staff the opportunity to give practical support to the programme through their own volunteering programme.

It was clear from our initial meeting that the venture would be beneficial. Joss is a strong advocate of the Bank’s newly announced commitment to help tackle poverty in local communities. Future Skills has been developed to bolster women’s existing coping strategies, increase resilience and develop their peer networks and I couldn’t have picked a better partner to co-design this workshop. The women really valued her input.

I wanted the careers workshop to provide participants with practical job seeking tools but, more importantly, to inspire the women and to help them recognise their worth. Many of the women on the project have overcome incredible challenges which have left them with little time or energy to focus on themselves, their skills or achievements.

High energy, High impact

During the workshop we looked at what each of the women’s dream jobs would look like, and the process they would need to go through to make having these jobs a reality. Joss created a range of multi layered tools which helped the women identify pathways towards employment and that could be reused later to evaluate their progress.

The workshop was high energy and high impact. Activities really challenged participants to consider their values and motivation and reach for their worth. Having a successful business woman support them to break down their ambitions to a step by step plan was constructive and affirming.

“I feel much better about myself since starting this project.” Project participant.

I couldn’t have hoped for better feedback, the women felt really positive about seeking work that suited them and their situations as opposed to the desperation of looking for any employment to meet other’s objectives.

 “It was a really great day, it has made me think differently, the way I walked in that day was not the same way I walked out. I really developed an idea of myself.”  Project Participant.

Looking forward

“I used to get up on a Monday with nothing to do and nothing to talk about and now I’m always busy and you can’t stop me talking.” Project participant.

We are now planning further ways in which the Cooperative bank and Oxfam can work together on the Future Skills programme. Some of Joss’ colleagues will join the programme again to coach the women through creating their CVs and to help them get ready for interviews. “We have so many talented colleagues in the Bank who can offer a real insight into the modern workplace,” explained Eileen Donnelly, Head of Values and Ethics at The Cooperative Bank. “I hope they’ll inspire the participants on the Future Skills programme to believe in themselves and to recognise the great things they have to offer employers.”

Circumstances outside of their control mean that most of these women start the programme  with little confidence but with each workshop a skill or passion is unlocked. Through positive shop experiences and additional events such as the workshops, campaigning and fundraising events the participants build up a portfolio of success.
The Future Skills programme began in 2015 as a pilot in Manchester, but will roll out in further locations including Scotland and London this year.


Nazira Kurbonova