Digital Agenda for Europe
A Europe 2020 Initiative

Opening Up a Universe of Employment Possibilities

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Nearly a quarter of Europe’s adults under 25 are not in education, employment or training. These so-called NEETs are struggling to get on the first step of the employment ladder in this harsh economic climate. Young adults say that they need more confidence to get through job interviews but, with opportunities so scarce, they often go into interviews feeling nervous and underprepared. Now an EU-funded research project that uses virtual reality is helping to change that.
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Youth unemployment leads to a range of problems, from poverty to social exclusion. The longer that young people stay unemployed, the harder it is for them to ever enter the workplace.

But getting that first job is a daunting prospect. As well as having less work experience than the generation above them, first-time job seekers are at a disadvantage in interviews. The TARDIS project (‘Training young Adults’ Regulation of emotions and Development of social Interaction Skills’) is redressing that balance by offering young people “virtual interviews” to practice their social competencies and help them prepare for the real thing.

TARDIS – A vehicle for success

The designers of the system – a consortium of academics from the Netherlands, Germany, France and the UK – have created a system that uses ‘virtual agents.’

‘The platform provides a realistic interviewing environment, as close as possible to real-life,’ says Dr Aurélie Jonquoy, the TARDIS Project Manager. ‘TARDIS is a “serious game”, in which many potentially limiting features of the real world are removed. As young people are familiar with – and like – using computer games, the game aspect of TARDIS is very important, in order to keep them motivated to train again and again and as many times as they need.’

The system is made up of several parts: the user interacts with a virtual interviewer via a webcam and an audio headset. The virtual interviewer poses questions and gives realistic verbal and non-verbal feedback, such as giving encouraging comments, or making gestures of boredom or annoyance.

Helping young adults to manage interview stress

The system also has a sophisticated emotional model that allows it to understand how the user is feeling, based on their body language and tone of voice. This model allows the virtual interviewer to give appropriate responses to the user. As an added feature, the user can see at a glance where they looked confident and relaxed, and where they appeared to be nervous.

The system is being promoted and offered to youth organisations throughout Europe. One of the early adopters is the YMCA London South West. Their Get On Track programme targets young people in economically disadvantaged parts of London. Anna Harris, the Get On Track Project Co-ordinator, explains why they have volunteered to pilot the system:

‘The reason for engaging in the TARDIS programme was to give the young people some valuable interview practice and experience,’ she said. ‘I think having regular access to such a project would be fantastic as it allows the young people see themselves in an interview situation and have relevant key feedback which can help progress and refine their interview skills. This will then reduce the pressure felt when attending interviews and also set help in setting them up to win.’

‘With TARDIS, young people can explore their strengths and weaknesses, and reduce their anxiety of applying and being interviewed for jobs,’ said Dr Jonquoy, adding that the virtual agent will allow over-stretched youth organisations to help many more disadvantaged young people.

- Link to project on CORDIS

- Link to TARDIS project website

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