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Ideas for groups and peer sessions

Section image for Finding work - workman standing on a question mark shadow

The great advantage of group and peer sessions is the chance, for those taking part, to share experiences with each other and to form friendships with an element of networking involved. They can be a good way for people to develop ideas and help each other build self-confidence and a resolve to succeed.

There is a debate as to whether mixed age group sessions or single age group sessions work best. It probably depends on how they are managed. Some suggest starting with single age group sessions when customers are new to the process and may be feeling insecure and then moving to mixed age group sessions.  This case study provides an example of successful mixed age group sessions offered by one provider.

Case study 1: the benefits of mixed age group sessions (PPDG)

PPDG (Pertemps People Development Group) in Hull offers jobseekers referred by Jobcentre Plus a full day course on finding work.

The course, which is for people who have been out of work for a short period of time, covers four topics: the local labour market, CVs, letters and applications, and interviews. Up to 15 people of different ages and backgrounds attend. Typically it is around 11 or 12. Two trainers lead the day, usually Jayne, who is in her 20s, and Ray, who is in his early 60s. This mix helps engage both younger and older customers.

Jayne doesn't view her age as an issue when she leads the course: "If an older individual is dismissive because I am young, I put it to one side. People always have preferences about delivery staff, and they are not all related to age. For example, they may prefer a man to a woman, etc, and we always try to accommodate them. Barriers do crop up between customers and coaches. Lone parents, for example, may think: ‘You don't know what it's like to be a single parent if haven't been through it'. If I haven't personally experienced people's situations, I encourage them to talk. We aren't teachers - we are there to facilitate."

Ray says the first 30 minutes of the course are key to getting the group to gel and to engage everyone present. "First we have a bit of chat to get some background on the participants and find out what they want from the course. It is important to get to know the group. It is quite informal and relaxed. As an icebreaker we do an exercise: Tell two truths and one lie about yourself and then, as a group, we try to work out which is the lie. The exercise also serves as training in dealing with perceptions. The best way to deal with potentially negative attitudes is to make participants laugh."

He also stresses that interactivity is important throughout the day. He constantly asks questions. For example: ‘If you were an employer, what would you want?' People may then respond by saying they would want someone who is honest, experienced, etc, and by doing this they are already working on preparing their CVs.

In the last 30 minutes, in a round table session, the trainers ask course participants typical interview questions. And then they ask the participants to put interview questions to them and the trainers play the role of jobseekers at an interview.

Ray says that mixed age groups work well but they have to be well managed. "It's not a problem even if we have people with a range of skills because the sessions involve discussions in pairs or in groups and we put people together according to the best fit."

"Having a mixed age group puts things in perspective for both younger and older people. While older people often say that they don't get jobs because they are too experienced, younger people tend to think they don't get jobs because they don't have enough experience. Both of them have to sell themselves in the right way.

"A range of ages also helps group dynamics. An older person, for example, can stimulate discussion by talking about their experiences.

"Older people have often spent a long time in the same job or industry and aren't aware of the skills they have. They may not have had a job interview for a very long time, don't know how to apply for a job in the modern market and may be uncomfortable about ‘selling themselves' into a job. If this is the case, role play and psychometric testing can help although older people may find these tools alien. Interactive exercises such as: ‘What is the benefit of an apple pip?' (an exercise aimed at developing creativity) may give rise to reactions like: ‘I don't want to do this. I want a job'.
Having a mixed age group does help because it makes it easier to engage older people in such activities. In the end, when older customers overcome their initial reservations, they really enjoy these exercises and benefit from them. They develop a better idea of their own value and become energised."

Job searching is a lonely, boring and depressing job for most. It involves a lot of hard work with often no result as applications, phone calls, letters and emails go unanswered. Above all, the jobseeker is putting their head above the parapet, saying ‘Buy me!’ and, more often than not, getting completely ignored. Group and peer sessions can help your 50+ customers stay motivated.

A job club is one such approach, but jobseekers benefit from the opportunity to attend one- or half-day courses or workshops on specific issues that you can guide them towards.

Where possible, participants should be grouped into common interest groups, as determined by age, level of job or even sector (eg IT specialists).

Here are some examples of such workshops.


1. Identifying Your transferable skills: Using one of the recognised processes to help participants determine what skills and experience they can offer employers, and job routes open to them.

2. Marketing yourself: A practical workshop aimed at developing participants’ approaches to advertisers, bureaus and agencies, networking and direct or speculative approaches.

3. A CV workshop: Looking at different sorts of CVs, and determining what best meets participants’ needs taking into account that many people need more than one CV.

4. Interviewing workshop: This one probably needs to be a full-day event and include a practice interview, ideally with CCTV. It should cover the principles of being interviewed and researching the interview, impact and body language, and dealing with difficult questions.

5. Networking and telephone techniques: A workshop, ideally with telephone practice, that helps participants develop their telephone skills for both networking and direct approaches. It should cover getting through to the right person, and developing conversations.

6. Job search motivation and stress: To help those for whom job searching has become too much and are in danger of giving up.

7. Word and Excel improvement: Many 50+ jobseekers have developed their IT skills through learning just what they had to in order to do their job. They may know quite a lot but have gaps that need filling. This workshop would be aimed at brushing up those skills and needs to be preceded by a questionnaire that identifies participants’ needs.

8. Sector workshops: where there are a number of clients all from the same sector (e.g. IT, retail, telecoms) there is value in putting on a specialist workshop for that sector to look at opportunities and approaches.

This case study describes the benefits of group coaching helped build the confidence and self esteem of an individual customer and other group members.

Case study 2: group coaching (BEST)

Our customer had been had been unemployed for two years, when he came to BEST. He had previously worked in a warehouse for 30 years. We identified the barriers that he was facing, including a lack of communication skills and self confidence, a health issue, limited IT skills and the familiar “No one would want to employ an old man like me” mind-set. We invited him, as part of his New Deal programme, to take part in a six week course run by a life coach from an external organisation Creative Pathway.

The focus of the course was to build self esteem and confidence. To achieve this, the group:

  • undertook “mind mapping” which included identifying some of their many achievements in life as well as in work
  • identified their transferable skills revealed by the mind mapping
  • considered the advantages to an employer of taking on a more mature worker (reliability, experience, good social skills, conscientiousness for example).

The course also built assertiveness and rapport building communication skills and identified positive and negative ‘self talk’ and the effects of both. Participation in this course and in our own group sessions for more mature jobseekers helped our customer improve his communication skills and confidence, gain basic computer skills and work experience working as a retail assistant. The great news is that he then found work as a retail assistant in a shoe shop, where he continues to work.

We also noticed the benefits of the course on other members. The learners seemed more confident and became more sociable. They helped each other use computers and look for jobs. They supported and encouraged each other in other ways too, for example by accompanying fellow group members to work placements. We are confident that given the same support and guidance, many older jobseekers can be helped to find and stay in work.

This site is for help and information only. It is not meant as an authoritative guide. It is not meant as an authoritative statement of the law, and future changes in the law and other programmes and initiatives could make it less accurate at times. TAEN, the Department for Work and Pensions and the European Social Fund take no responsibility for your use of the information. You should always take professional advice on any specific legal or financial matter.