Empowering the vulnerable youth with Interview Skills
Open University of Mauritius

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
For the past decade, youth unemployment has been the concern of the government, the private sector and the civil society in Mauritius. For far too long, emphasis has been laid on hard skills at the expense of soft skills. Our youth perform very well academically and have been prepared to succeed in exams. But when it comes to looking for a job, applying for it and attending interviews, unfortunately only a few young people get through. The Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) conducted the labour shortage survey in the months of July to October 2011. Nearly 1100 employers participated in the survey that aimed at measuring and understanding the current state and pattern of skills as well as the future evolution of the manpower landscape in Mauritius. One of the major findings of this survey has been the identification of the employability/soft skills that employers are looking for. Based on this survey, and realising that, in this increasingly competitive world, the accomplishment of jobs has evolved to more than just having qualifications and technical skills, the Open University of Mauritius (OU) developed short soft/employability skills courses that would provide the opportunity to everyone to acquire these skills that are as important as the academic qualifications especially in an era where knowledge is evolving rapidly. Experts from the industry were selected to form a team to develop the study materials. The experts from the industry were thoroughly briefed about development of ODL materials. The staff of the Open School Division produced all the materials in collaboration with employers. Each short course, of varying duration, comprises several videos showing the application of the employability skills at the workplace. These courses include Job Search, Body Language, Time & Priority Management, Interview Skills, Negotiation Skills, Internet & Social Media, Presentation Skills and Public Speaking Skills. However, one major issue that needed to be addressed was the empowerment of our youth so that they can perform well during a selection interview. The short course “Interview Skills” was produced with a view to giving crucial information that is very important and relevant to every applicant who is preparing for an interview. While our Mauritian youth, including school leavers and young graduates, were striving to find a job, there were some vulnerable youth who were struggling hard to join the workforce – the Chagossian*youth. There are about 10000 Chagossians living in Mauritius, many of them living in the poorest regions facing difficulties such as drugs, alcohol, unemployment, prostitution and ‘poor’ education. Indeed, the scars of exile and suffering are not only in their hearts but are also reflected in their standards of living which are still very meager. They have always tried to integrate into the Mauritian society, but it never successfully happened. * The depopulation of Chagossians from the Chagos Archipelago was the compelled expulsion of the inhabitants of the island of Diego Garcia and the other islands of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) by the United Kingdom, at the request of the United States, from 1968 to1973.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
- Equip the Chagossians with the right tools for employment opportunities - Design a training programme on “Interview Skills” for the Chagossian youth - Deliver the training face-to-face to as many Chagossian youth as possible

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
In 2015, the British High Commission financed a project that was successfully implemented by OU. The project aimed at empowering young Chagossians in employability skills. OU had already designed and developed a training programme on ‘Interview Skills’ with the collaboration of ‘Ceridian Mauritius’. We decided to customize the course for the Chagossians and we tailor-made the delivery for them. Course Outline Units 1. Creating Winning Strategies (knowing what one wants as a job or career and how to go about it) 2. Job Search (understanding one’s current qualifications/experience and consider jobs that match one’s profile and carrying out an elaborated job search) 3. Cover Letter, CV, and How to Apply (the 3 key areas when looking for a job) 4. Dress Code, Attitude and Behaviour (Preparing for the Interview) 5. What Employers Want (the various qualities employers are looking for in a candidate during the interview) 6. Phone Interviews (as part of the recruitment process to screen candidates and narrow down the pool of candidates to be invited for face-to-face interviews) 7. Mock Interviews (the opportunity to practice/rehearse before attending a real interview) 8. What Happens After the Interview (what candidates should do when the interview is over – no despair, keeping all options open) Aims and Objectives of the Programme Aim: To enable participants to develop the knowledge and skills for effective job searching, preparation of CVs, cover letters and application forms and for performance at interview. Learning objectives/ outcomes • To develop awareness of different job search techniques including how to employ practical networking techniques • To recognise the skills developed during research and analyse how to present these effectively in written applications • To understand and recognise the characteristics of effective CVs, cover letters and application forms • To critique the strengths and weaknesses of their own and peers’ current CVs • To evaluate example cover letters • To prepare an example answer for an application form • To understand interview processes and practise being interviewed The programme aimed to help the young participants gain the knowledge and practical skills to prepare for and undertake different types of interviews. 27 young Chagossians were trained from 14 February to 25 April 2015 and a couple of weeks later, 9 went successfully through interviews and secured a job. In 2016, the British High Commission, after consultation with the Chagossian Community, commissioned a similar project to OU for a larger group of 37 youngsters. The training programme was successfully implemented between 13 February and 23 April and all the participants completed the course. Hardly a month later, 13 secured a job.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
We adopted an innovative approach using video, manual(self-study guide) and face-to-face with a lot of interaction and group work. We are very much aware that innovation is a critical ingredient for success in today’s work environment. Being able to innovate allows us to stay ahead of the game instead of constantly playing catch-up. During the delivery of the training, we outlined an easy-to-follow process that would help participants develop their ability to think innovatively and create tangible results.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The Open University of Mauritius (OU) was established on 12 July 2012 according to the Open University of Mauritius ACT 2010. OU aims at delivering quality education to learners who wish to study on full-time mode as well as to those who are unable to be physically present on campus. With flexible study options, its learners can study from home, work, or anywhere in the world, at a time that suits them and their lifestyle. The objectives of OU are in line with our mission statement which is to use technology and flexible mode of teaching to serve society, transform lives, and make high-quality education, lifelong learning, and training accessible to everyone while promoting excellence in research. As a public university, we hope to meet these objectives to ensure we give access to school leavers, adults, and people with disabilities thus making higher education accessible to all. We are responsive to the needs and expectations of our stakeholders and shall act accordingly to offer enhanced satisfaction to the local and international learning community. In this era of fierce competition and high unemployment among the youth, the Chagossian Youth have to be empowered with the right skills for better job opportunities in order to integrate the Mauritian society 64 young Chagossians (27 in 2015, 37 in 2016) benefitted from the programme. OU hopes to continue to work with the Chagossian Community and the British High Commission and to empower the Chagossian community with the required skills so that they can have more employment opportunities and better integrate the Mauritian society.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The course was delivered by a qualified trainer from OU. The face-to-face sessions ran as a 2-hour workshop on ten consecutive Saturdays We wanted the course to be comprehensive and engaging. The trainer guided the participants through each lesson step-by-step. During this media-rich learning experience, participants learnt what to do before the interview is scheduled, specific interviewing techniques such as mirroring and body language and they had the opportunity to practice the most common interview questions and much more. Whether they were completely new to the job market, re-entering the workforce or looking to advance their career, this course empowered them with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in their next interview. We had incorporated years of classroom training experience and teaching techniques to develop an easy-to-use course that could be customized to meet personal learning needs. OU mounted the training programme and the British High Commission commissioned and hence funded the delivery of the training sessions.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
OU worked with the Senior Vice President & Director and the HR Consultant of Ceridian Mauritus to design the course. The course consists of 8 units. A booklet (a self-study guide with a transcript of the video, relevant activities and self-assessment tasks) and 2 DVDs containing videos of an HR Consultant explaining each unit. The content consists of information that is very important and relevant to every applicant who is preparing for an interview. Typical interview questions are discussed and example answers provided along with in-depth explanations throughout. Among other things, the various units brush up on the practicalities of job searching, developing CVs and preparing for interviews. Emphasis is given to understanding the processes which employers are increasingly using to select staff and the importance of tailoring CVs, applications and approaches accordingly. We discuss and practise the skills required for effective performance at interview; preparation, self-presentation and how to deal with typical interview questions. Participants get to explore the different types of interview questions and styles they might expect, and how to prepare for them by researching the company and practising their answers. The course also uncovers the best ways to create a good first impression and navigate the interview, as well as handle the tricky questions. Moreover, they learn how to assess their own performance, thank the company for their time, and follow up on a decision. We have incorporated years of classroom training experience and teaching techniques to develop an easy-to-use course that can be customized to meet personal learning needs.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
In line with SDGs 4 and 10, we want to give equal education and employment opportunities to everyone in our country. The Chagossian youngsters who followed the training programme on “Interview Skills” 1. consistently followed the 10 face-to-face sessions 2. were empowered and transformed 3. subsequently attended interviews with more confidence 4. successfully completed their interviews and secured a job 5. encouraged their peers to follow the course, hence the running of the programme in 2015 with 27 participants and 2016 with 37 participants. Use the following URL to access a video that contains testimonials from the Leader of the Chagossian Refugee Group and a few Chagossian participants: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B6Hr98OMahDwM19iUnZzV0lFSUE?usp=sharing

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
1. The language medium to be used in the face-to-face sessions: not all participants were well versed in English. A mix of English(our official language) and Kreol Mauricien (our national language) was used to facilitate communication and participation 2. Lack of commitment of youngsters to attend sessions on Saturday afternoons We believe that there is never a second chance to make a first impression. We had to show the participants how beneficial the sessions would be to them and failure to attend a session would mean missing out on important elements of the course. We managed to hook them to the whole duration of the course.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The social benefits of any education initiative are extensive. Besides the young participants, every sector and sub-sector recruiting these youngsters will gain. With regard to the benefits to the participants, they are manifold. Getting an interview is an achievement in itself. Participants are made aware that only a small proportion of applicants are selected for interview, so they have already made a positive impression to have got to that stage. Comprehensive formal interviews represent a formidable challenge for many young people. They have been shown how preplanning for interviews can improve their confidence and interview performance. The mock interview that they had improved their self-efficacy towards the job interview as it enabled them to gain an understanding of the typpe of questions they woould encounter in an indepth formal interview, and it affords them the opportunity to practise the articulation of answers. Besides highlighting the perceived effectiveness of the ‘Creating winning strategies’ and ‘Job Search’ units of the training course, the participants indicated some benefits in terms of knowledge and awareness in the following areas: • What the interviewers are looking for • What it is like to be on the other side • Importance of body language • Preparing responses before answering • Appropriate responses to questions The participants had the opportunity to interact with the trainer at other times than the training day. There was knowledge exchange and the parents of the participants were fully involved ensuring regular attendance of their kids and wishing others kids to enroll in the programme. All the participants gained from experience of the interview process in preparation for the workforce. Now, they not have the right skills to attend interviews, but they are also able to assert themselves with confidence at any interview.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
Not Applicable

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
Not Applicable

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Open University of Mauritius
Institution Type:   Academia  
Contact Person:   Indiren Seetaramadoo
Title:   Director Open School  
Telephone/ Fax:   230 4038200/230 4648854
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   i.seetaramadoo@open.ac.mu  
Address:   Open University of Mauritius
Postal Code:  
City:   Reduit

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