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Essential tools for the future of work

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Nesta and England’s Department for Education support innovations to pave the way for future employment in a changing workforce

From game-based learning platforms, to AI-driven careers advice, Nesta Challenges and the Department for Education have today announced the innovations shortlisted for the £5.75 million CareerTech Challenge. The ideas from a wide range of innovators, entrepreneurs and technologists have been identified as those with the greatest potential to equip adults across England with the tools and skills to navigate a rapidly changing world of work.

Nesta research suggests that more than six million people in the UK are currently employed in occupations that are likely to radically change or entirely disappear by 2030 due to automation, population ageing, urbanisation and the rise of the green economy. 

In the nearer-term, the coronavirus crisis has intensified the importance of this problem. Recent warnings suggest that a prolonged lockdown could result in 6.5 million people losing their jobs. Of these workers, nearly 80% do not have a university degree.

The solutions being funded through the CareerTech Challenge are designed to support people who will be hit the hardest by an insecure job market over the coming years. This includes those without a degree, and working in sectors such as retail, manufacturing, construction and transport.

It is clear that people need to be equipped with the tools and skills to find future employment.

The Challenge consists of two parts: a Prize to scale up digital concepts that make information, advice and guidance more accessible, and a Fund to develop innovative online learning solutions which build people’s motivation to learn and develop new skills. Nesta will provide expert support and mentoring to help refine and develop the solutions over the next 11 months, and the aim is for people to start benefiting from the solutions as soon as autumn 2020.

20 Prize finalists will receive £50,000 each to help scale their concepts, while 11 Fund finalists will access grants of up to £250,000. A £120,000 cash prize will be awarded to the winning Prize entrant in March 2021.

Following submissions from across the country after applications opened in October, the wide variety of innovations include:

  • An initiative from Game Academy, which will help video gamers to acquire new transferrable employment skills through game play, including complex problem solving, decision-making and leadership. With every second person in the UK playing video games, Game Academy has the potential to make a major difference to the Challenge’s relevant demographic.  
  • Digital Mums, which aims to support women to become lifelong learners by supporting flexible careers. With research showing that mothers are far more likely to be in at-risk low-skilled, low-paid part-time roles, Digital Mums’ technology will be used to deliver project based learning and peer support for their growing community, ultimately helping to reduce maternal unemployment. 
  • CareerEar’s platform, which will connect job seekers with industry professionals for mentoring and careers advice – the service will provide visual maps of users’ industries and job functions to help them understand how their skills could be transferred, and include a live chat function to help assess people’s skills.
  • Citizen Literacy Taster, an app that provides personalised support and encouragement for adult learners taking their first steps in learning to read and write, providing a bridge for developing confidence in learners to move on to further learning opportunities.  
  • Wordnerds’ platform, which will bridge the miscommunication between employers and employees. It will analyse the language used to describe soft skills in job adverts and descriptions, and align it with the language that people in the target group are likely to be using about themselves.

Ksenia Zhoultoukhova, Nesta’s Executive Director of People and Performance said: “We want to ensure that more people feel confident in understanding what jobs will be available in the future and how to learn the skills to secure them. Technology has a crucial role to play in this, and we look forward to working closely with the innovators to help them put their ideas into action on an even greater scale.”

“With employment concerns across England exacerbated by the current health crisis, it is even more important to equip people with the tools to plan for secure future careers. By connecting people with the information they need to navigate a rapidly changing job market, we can empower people to find good-quality, meaningful work.”

The CareerTech Challenge supports the government’s ambition to develop a vibrant market for adult online learning and to help prepare adults for the future changes to the economy, including those brought about by automation.

Gillian Keegan, Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships, added: “It is fantastic to see such a range of innovative ideas make it onto the shortlist for this CareerTech Challenge. Technology is playing a vital role in making sure people can get access to the skills they need to succeed, wherever they are. I look forward to seeing how these innovations develop.”

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Nesta Challenges exists to design and run challenge prizes that help solve pressing problems that lack solutions.

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