As a facilitator of Employment Workshops and Programs, I am consistently aware of the emotional state of my unemployed participants. Be it 1-3 weeks or more, they arrive with hope and expectation, maybe even some initial anxiety and suspicion. Quickly I watch them transition to inclusion, where their participation rises and they build relationships with other participants. They eventually start to resent the impending end, and on the last day express a desire that it went on for another week. Then what?
Workshops assisting the unemployed usually share best practices. Whether it’s a workshop on gaining life skills and getting oneself together, or a basic introduction to using the computer, the general idea is participants learn skills and then transition to using them independently moving forward. So you’d expect a person to take those new computer skills and start job searching using the computer more. You’d expect a person to manage their life better after learning some life skills such as goal setting and managing their frustration and anger.
Most seasoned facilitators are wise enough to know however, that despite all the good intentions people have while in their workshops, success won’t come for all. Some will of course take what they’ve learned and have the drive and determination to continue what they’ve learned. Through practice, they gain mastery over what was perhaps new to them, and they can independently incorporate that new learning into their daily lives.
Others however will not have gained the skills necessary to carry on with the momentum your workshop ignited. They will return to their previous behaviour once returned to their own environment. Sustaining the energy and the positivity you and the others in the class brought daily for themselves is impossible. In fact, some not only regress to the point they were before the class started, they go further back mentally, now beating themselves up for not doing what they know they should, which before they took your course they were truly ignorant of.
No it’s not practical to expect you can hold their hand each and every day. You can’t be expected to phone your participants all at 9:00 a.m. and ensure they are up, dressed and hard at the job search either. You can of course flip them a business card and say, “Call me” at the end of a workshop, but how much time can you really give all those participants if they called you wanting more. Your own time is limited, and you’ve already turned the page on the last group and might be starting to gather your next roster of participants.
Well maybe you can arrange a get-together of sorts; you know, some kind of support session for those who haven’t found employment and who want to meet in a month’s time. You can also encourage the group to share their contact information with those in the group willing to do the same. Connecting with each other may help them hold each other accountable and build some social supports. That’s good. Be it by email, the phone or meeting in person at the library or coffee shop, they can initiate their own activity after workshops end should they choose to do so.
I myself find the following: some participants have no desire to implement much of anything they’ve learned. Some have the desire to make changes but don’t have the skills to bring about change. Some too have the desire for change, have the skills too but lack the momentum to keep it going unless they see positive results early. We all need reinforcement. So a job searcher needs an employer to reply and give them an interview for example. No interviews at all for the effort invested, momentum sags, disappointment seeps in and the job search can stall again.
I get disappointment. The danger after a workshop is that one can feel right back where they started. I caution them in fact on this very demon. “You’re going to wake up next Monday and that’s when it’s going to hit you. Suddenly you have no place to go, no reason you have to get up, you might feel cut off, isolated again and right back where you were before you took this workshop. Know it’s coming, and prepare to mentally meet it head on.” And then we talk about strategies to ward off this despair.
While we as facilitator’s cannot live our clients lives, nor make decisions for them, realize that wouldn’t be best for them anyhow. Who is to say that we have any right to do that anyhow? People do have to make decisions for themselves and not all those decisions are ones we would make. We can guide, inform, assist, suggest, caution and we can advise. What we don’t have the right to do is actually decide for others. Yet we want to don’t we!
I generally find after a workshop I pick out 2 – 4 people who have really impressed me with their effort. In addition to what I’ve got to turn my own energy to, I continue to connect with and support these few, checking in with them and fitting in whatever follow-up time I can give them that they are open to. I can’t, “save them all”; the usual mantra of the new and young facilitator. I can only do what I can do and I suspect we are the same.