PMI Belgium chapter helps the unemployed

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The idea behind our training

“The unemployed are lazy, they don’t want to work”.  This is a stigma that many individuals face during a challenging time in their lives.  In fact, it’s a message many of us have heard frequently.  But who tries to help them to find a new job in the very demanding work environment?  In Belgium, our PMI Belgium Chapter identified an opportunity to get involved and support these youth.

We, a group of 6 PMI volunteers got the idea to help unemployed youth by providing them with an introduction to project management. We felt happy and fortunate to have interesting and fulfilling jobs as project managers, and we decided to share this experience with less fortunate youngsters as a valuable business and life skill.

In order to address this group, we identified an organization in Belgium that was already helping youth in transition, called VDAB, a Flemish service for unemployed individuals.  By partnering with VDAB, we had access to some of our basic needs, like meeting space and logistical support.  While this organization is unique to Belgium, there are many organizations around the globe who serve unemployed individuals during periods of transitions.

The first training

I organized a pilot program in Leuven for 24 unemployed young people. The training was structured in three sessions that each lasted three hours.  Each of the attendees was between the age of 18 and 35 years old, and had completed a varying degree of education; while some had completed their Bachelor’s Degree, others had not completed secondary school.  The sessions, which took place from 6:00 PM until 9:00 PM, were not mandatory for the students.  However, the attendance for the sessions was overwhelming – all of the participants attended all of the sessions and completed the training.  This means that students across a wide variety of educational backgrounds felt engaged in the training and believed the skill was worthwhile.

During the training, we needed to consider what materials to cover.  As members of the PMI chapter, we had the knowledge to share, but we needed to identify what would be important to these youth.  For this, we considered some basics, including the following:

  • What is project management: Definition and Examples
  • What is the PMI Educational Foundation and what are its goals?
  • What are 21st century skills?
  • What are the 5 project groups?
  • Initiation, planning, execution, monitor and control, close

Our presentation was designed to incorporate fundamentals taken from the PMBOK Guide, as well as materials on soft skills from the PMI Educational Foundation, like communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.  We recognized that all of the attendees would not become professional project managers, but there are few occupations where project management knowledge would not be a valuable asset.

Another goal of the training was to keep it as interactive as possible.  For this reason, we utilized plenty of examples and interactive components.  We encouraged the trainees to bring in examples from their environment. In groups of five, they wrote a project charter. The charter of the individual groups were discussed between the trainees and the trainer. They proved that it was a real project and described the requirements. Then, they used their own project to create the WBS and Risk register. Each project plan led to vivid discussions and a good atmosphere in the class.

The volunteers’ approach paid off, because one of the attendees provided the following feedback: “The trainer was able to bring the material in a very animated way. Thanks to that the training was not dull and very amusing.”

At the conclusion of the session, our chapter supported our decision to create Project Management certificates to provide to the attendees.  These certificates of completion could be used to build resumes.

The pilot program was a tremendous success; both the trainees and the VDAB were very pleased with the initiative, which was demonstrated by the high level of attendance and the completion rate of the training.   Further positive feedback came from another attendee who saw the value of project management training, and shared, “I would advise [completing] the training to my friends who are confronted in their daily life with management challenges, so that they get a better understanding of the material.”

Next steps?

As the first training was well perceived, we decided to organize the training in different locations.  VDAB was supportive and enthusiastic about growing the program.  Now we have organized trainings in six additional locations, and all of the trainings will be given by enthusiastic volunteers from the PMI Belgium Chapter.    The chapter was very keen on the project and volunteers jumped in to support our initiative.

We now have a nice group of about 5 active trainers that I will continue to work to expand. During a “train the trainer” session I gave them some important training tips and tricks. Volunteering has provided them with a great way to work on their training skills.

In every location we give two training, one in the Spring and one in the Autumn.  An additional change that we made was to extend the training to those who are unemployed to also include people in danger of losing their job because of reorganization.  In the future, we will formalize the chapter’s involvement with VDAB by signing an agreement with the chapter.

We feel that our work has been rewarding, which is why it has been widely recognized and will continue to grow and develop.  I’m happy to share an early success story: We even have a student, who found a job after the training as a project management assistant, and he told us he uses the training material a lot.  Perhaps one day he will join our chapter and begin leading trainings for future youth!

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