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Future skills

At a glance

Offering support and skills development to meet the needs of women facing barriers to progress out of poverty.


The UK is one of the richest countries in the world, yet 1 in 5 people live below the poverty line. Unemployment, low pay, zero-hour contracts and rising living costs are all making life harder for millions of people.

Many women, in particular, are living with, or at risk of poverty because they cannot access decent jobs or fully take part in their local communities. The reasons for this can vary but there are common themes, including a lack of flexible job opportunities, caring responsibilities, and low levels of confidence, skills, and work experience. Some women may also have limited English language skills.

The Future Skills project offers support and skills development to meet the particular needs of women who face many barriers to progress out of poverty. Working in partnership with Oxfam's extensive shop network, we provide a six-month supported volunteer placement in an Oxfam shop alongside professional mentoring, workshops and group work.

Our approach

Participants are recruited in partnerships with women's organisations, refugee community organisations, and other community groups. Staff at these organisations identify suitable candidates and support the women to apply to the programme.

The project focuses on women living in, or at risk of poverty who are frequently in one or more of the following groups:

  • Asylum seekers and refugees
  • Black and ethnic minority backgrounds
  • Women who have been unemployed for a long time
  • Domestic abuse survivors
  • Women with few or no formal qualifications
  • Women with poor mental health

Participants receive a six month placement in an Oxfam shop, of at least two shifts a week. The women receive in-shop training in skills including visual merchandising and stock management. Participants also work with a professional mentor to gain confidence and plan their personal and professional development, and take part in skills workshops such as career development and event planning.

Over the course of the placement, the women develop their social skills and networks by engaging with shop staff, other volunteers and customers. This is a vital part of the project since many of the participants, especially asylum seekers and refugees are often isolated. Stronger social networks help women to be more confident, improve their language skills as well as increasing their sense of belonging to their local community.


Pathways are developed with participants during the programme to plan for their future. This might include going into work through partnerships with local and national employers, opportunities for further volunteering and wider involvement in Oxfam's work, including through events, policy or campaigning. Participants can also volunteer to support other women that join Future Skills at later dates.

Scaling up

A pilot conducted in from January-July 2016 demonstrated that the approach is effective and produces strong outcomes for the women. From spring 2017 the project will be delivered at a larger scale in Greater Manchester, London, Glasgow and Cardiff, and then in Oxford. Based on the results of these pilot projects, we will investigate whether it is viable to scale the project across the whole country.