Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Women4IT project was beginning the training pilot period. Many young women who had been previously expecting to start training in person were now having to complete their educational cycle remotely and using different digital solutions. To ensure the trainees participating in the programme stayed involved in the initiative and were motivated to complete the training, the piloting partners had to adapt their methods of communication and engagement building.
One of the fundamental changes was to shift the entire training ecosystem to the online sphere. The Women4IT partners used many different technological solutions and approaches to provide the best possible outcomes for the participating trainees. Firstly, the online training was hosted by external trainers, mainly taking place on Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Additionally, trainees were able to network within online communities created using social media features like Facebook groups or WhatsApp group chats. Moreover, mentors who supported the trainees in developing soft and technical skills, job market search and refining CVs and cover letters became available for contact via phone, messaging apps and email. Initially, the project partners foresaw working mainly with young women based locally and in person. Thanks to all these adjustments, young women from various parts of the country, including rural areas, were able to benefit from the training programme, and one-to-one mentorship became more accessible to the trainees in need of such assistance.
Boosting training interactivity
Moving the training to an online space undoubtedly diminished the level of interaction the participants of physical meetings had been used to in the past. For this reason, the partners, as well as trainers, deemed it crucial to bring more elements of engagement into the online sessions. To ensure that the trainees’ experience was as similar as possible to face-to-face interactions, a soft ‘camera-on’ rule was set for all sessions, allowing the participants to see everyone in the training room, recognise their reactions and relate more naturally. At the same time, the trainers took into account that some of the trainees might not have the right conditions to participate in a video call and could only connect with audio (e.g., due to sharing the space with other family members, commuting or simultaneously looking after their baby) – a decision that everyone respected.
The facilitators also used tools that fostered interactivity and group work during day-to-day digital workshops, such as Mentimeter, Miro, Doodle and Jotform. These tools allowed to boost engagement in the training group; additionally, thanks to the format of exercises and input sharing they provided, all young women – whether more forward and outspoken or more withdrawn and quieter – had the possibility and comfort to actively participate in the sessions.
Finally, captivating content and knowledge delivery were at least equally as important as the use of interactive tools in keeping the participants’ engagement high. For this reason, aside from the information-rich curriculum delivered by the trainers, the trainees could also benefit from sessions with experts like IT companies’ representatives, where they could ask questions and receive relevant tips and tricks about selected career paths as well as recruitment processes.
Building a community
While all of the engagement methods used throughout the Women4IT project proved highly successful, they would not have worked half as effectively if it were not for the atmosphere of security and support established in the training groups. The trainees were able to grow together in a safe, judgment-free, learning-oriented space, where their needs would be respected and where they could rely on their mentor’s help if and when required. They also understood that while the trainers imparted knowledge to them, they were the ones taking responsibility for their own professional development. Setting this standard helped the young women be more open, enter conversations, share more with the group and support each other’s learning process. This approach also enabled building communities of trainees – more informal groups set online, where they could connect, exchange experiences, advertise job opportunities and stay in touch after the training programme had ended.
There is no denying that the outburst of the Covid-19 pandemic completely changed the Women4IT plans for implementing the training pilots across Europe. One may argue, however, that it caused the project partners to take a closer look at the developed educational programme and question how it could make more impact. In the aftermath, the Women4IT training as a product became more engaging, inclusive and accessible, both in terms of the delivered content and the delivery format. It would also seem that the Women4IT agree: through the positive feedback partners had received, testimonials shared online, and word of mouth, Women4IT became more popular, with an influx of young women interested in the training and other organisations willing to replicate the initiative in their regions.