Our fifth anniversary

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I started this blog not long after founding MyWorkSearch in 2009. We started product development in February 2009 and provided our online service to our first customers in September 2009. In what seems like a blink of the eye, our portal is now five years old. We have a reasonably large team, numerous customers and are about to expand overseas. Whilst I still consider MyWorkSearch to be in startup mode I often hear others refer to us as an established business and the benchmark in our sector.

Fifth anniversaryThe five-year milestone has resulted in my thinking back to our original plans and how they have evolved over the years. The technology world often refers to business ‘pivoting’. This is a fancy way of describing when a company discovers that its anticipated business model has not worked out and survival necessitates a change of strategy. MyWorkSearch has certainly done its fair share of pivoting and it has only been in the last year or two that we have had a clear sense as to who our target customers are and the value we bring that will result in them paying for our services.

Our original rationale was that most people find job search a challenge. They approach the task in a chaotic and haphazard fashion and this reduces their effectiveness. Having paid consultants/advisors provide job search assistance is in most cases simply too expensive. We believed that technology would provide an effective and affordable alternative and this led to MyWorkSearch. We decided to create a portal that would provide all the resources a jobseeker would find useful as well as the tools to stay organised. We knew that this would increase job search effectiveness and real-life experience has demonstrated this to be the case.

Which brings me back to our business model. We have identified five types of customer. However, our ‘compelling value’ proposition only works well with four of them:

  • Motivated jobseekers see immediate relevance in MyWorkSearch. They access the resources they find useful and recognise the value they have received from their MyWorkSearch account.
  • Providers delivering a programme for the unemployed also appreciate MyWorkSearch. Our portal provides the structure and reporting that both enable effective job search and demonstrate that it is happening. MyWorkSearch ensures that systematic job search takes place and the provider can require that those they are assisting use it. We are a low cost, scalable and efficient way of delivering business performance and we can readily communicate this to our prospects.
  • Employability is important for colleges and vocational training providers and they can see how MyWorkSearch helps them systematically achieve progression. MyWorkSearch is part of how the students’ courses are delivered and they just get on and use it. Study Programmes, Traineeships and employability courses all generate customers for us.
  • Some organisations, such as libraries and job clubs, want to have a range of useful resources available to their users. MyWorkSearch is a readily accessible portal that service users will appreciate and a sector for whom we have a clear proposition.

Our challenge is the fifth type of customer. This is the unemployed individual who lacks job search motivation and is not on a programme where MyWorkSearch usage is mandatory. We know that MyWorkSearch can help this person, however, we also know that there is a high chance that the individual will either fail to open a MyWorkSearch account or quickly give up. As matters stand we don’t have a compelling proposition for these customers as our service cannot benefit them if they won’t use it.

As we look to the future my hope is that we find some solutions for this fifth customer group. How can technology engage with and motivate individuals who have got into the habit of giving up and who are not on mandatory programmes? If we can solve this our next five years will be even more successful.

Motivation Matters

Later this week I am speaking at a conference on digital innovation in job search. As I work on my presentation I cannot help but reflect on some challenging home truths. There is a common perception that some people simply cannot use technology. That it is too complicated for them or they are of a generation that simply does not ‘get it’.

However, it does not take very long to find evidence disproving this. Video-conferenceHow many people who never found use for a computer adopt the technology once their grandchildren are on Skype? Or what about those who discover they can make some ready cash buying and selling on ebay?  Or perhaps their interest in their family history has brought them to the many research tools available online.

The simple truth is that most people will make the effort to learn how to use technology when it suits them to do so. The challenge is helping the person recognise the benefits so they make the effort.

This has particular relevance for job search. Without digital skills it is hard to find anything but the most basic job. From vacancy search to online application forms to simply emailing a CV, technology is ubiquitous.

We developed MyWorkSearch because it seemed obvious that a low cost and readily accessible job search assistance portal would make sense for very large numbers of people. The hundreds of thousands who have benefited from the service demonstrates the merits of the approach. But what about those who find it all just a bit too difficult?

All too often I see those assisting others with job search simply accepting low levels of digital literacy and agreeing that alternative methods of job search are acceptable. The more I think about this the clearer it is to me that we are doing jobseekers a disservice. Very, very few people are genuinely incapable of using technology. We need to make clear to jobseekers a) why technology will benefit them and b) that learning basic IT skills is both essential and within their capabilities. Too many people use ‘technology’ as the barrier that impedes their job search. Those of us who work in the employment sector need to be clear that the training and equipment are available and the only real barrier is motivation.

May All Your Troubles Last As Long As Your New Year’s Resolutions

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I came across Joey Adams’ insightful wish on a friend’s December 31 Facebook update.  It made me laugh but at the same time brought home an area of serious concern. We are in tough economic times and unemployment blights the lives of millions of people. For the past four years my colleagues and I have provided a technology platform that has assisted many tens of thousands of jobseekers. ResolutionWe operate across the spectrum, from experienced professionals to the long-term unemployed and from those close to retirement to teenagers looking for their first job. From the data we see and the conversations we have, a few things are apparent:

Far too many people have a naïvely optimistic approach to job-search. They put insufficient time into planning, quality and action. Getting a job is a competitive activity. For every successful individual there are jobseekers who are not offered an interview as well as those who make it to the shortlist but do not receive an offer. So very often the difference between success and failure is time and commitment.

We have all made life choices that subsequently come back to haunt us. Daydreaming through the boring school lesson, the TV programme instead of homework, the qualification that was just too much effort, the lack of commitment that resulted in someone else getting the promotion at work or perhaps the fun nights out that meant there were no savings available to fund a new business.  All of these decisions have ripple consequences and the challenging economy has amplified this.

As we consider the new year and where we will invest our efforts and what plans we will stick to, I hope that career makes it to the top of the list. Employment vs unemployment and good job vs bad job affect a person each and every day. Some focus and effort can make a real difference. Let’s hope Joey’s cynicism applies just to the smokers and gym-phobic!

Pragmatic pulling

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When was the last time you played a computer game? Not some simple exercise on your mobile phone. I mean a complicated multi-player game with numerous controls, options and challenges. Learning how to master the game is hard. There is a lot to learn, from controller/keyboard commands to gameplay options and rules. And yet millions of people do this. Many of whom fail to get formal qualifications or are cajoled and encouraged in order to achieve them. So it is not a question of being unable to learn. It appears to be more about motivation to learn.

What also strikes me is the effort and research that goes into learning how to play a game well. Playing a video gameThe game may arrive with a booklet and have training segments. However the enthusiastic gamer will google for guidance, read forums and find videos showing other players’ tips and tricks. They will do all of this because they are motivated to succeed and know that learning this information is key to their gaming success.

I have spent considerable time in recent months visiting establishments that provide employability assistance to job-seekers. At the end of the course an assessor verifies that the learner has indeed understood what an employer is looking for and what s/he personally needs to do in order to secure and keep a job. What has struck me is how much cost goes into cajoling individuals through that relatively short learning journey and assessment. Pushing this information to learners is an expensive process. It all costs money – from learner recruitment to physical infrastructure to tutor and all the associated delivery resources. Currently the taxpayer, via the Skills Funding Agency, picks up the multi-billion pound bill for this.

So here’s a thought. What if a reasonable proportion of learners could be encouraged to self-learn? They could use technology to pull the learning they need and, when ready, complete the required assessment process. The main barrier is motivation. The person who is willing to invest time and effort mastering a game cannot be bothered to do this when it comes to what s/he perceives as someone else’s course and qualification. In an ideal world people would see how learning this information benefits them and would find the internal motivation to pursue the knowledge. However in the real world it does not happen and we invest a fortune in pushing education.

So what would happen if we made learning resources available online and paid people to achieve qualifications? I imagine that a payment of twenty five percent of the cost of pushing training would be sufficient to motivate many learners.  If half our students could self-learn one third of their training we would save a fortune in delivery costs. Meanwhile training provision could be focused on the harder to help groups that are not able to self-learn.

I can see how this would be politically sensitive. After all, why should ‘we’ bribe people to learn something that will benefit them? The answer in these straitened times could be that it is a pragmatic solution that could save a fortune. If you are not sure it is feasible, invest in a computer game and see how long it takes you to master the game-play!

Bifurcation

Bifurcation is one of those excellent words reserved for crosswords and serious conferences. It was being used yesterday to describe a rather depressing phenomenon that will affect millions of people. I was at the Employment Related Services Association annual conference and labour market trends were being discussed. Bifurcation was being used to describe the way the employment market is splitting into well paid and highly skilled jobs and low paid unskilled ones, with the middle being squeezed. Technology and globalisation mean that many of these ‘middle’ roles are disappearing and those that cannot obtain the highly skilled jobs face unemployment or jobs they do not want.

This is a concern for the affected individuals as well as a problem for our country and unfortunately there are no easy answers. Going from unskilled to skilled is not a swift and simple journey and meanwhile our knowledge employers are struggling to find the people they need. The wider the gap between the haves and have nots the more unpleasant society becomes. There are thousands of families for whom the choice is unemployment or low paid work and the forthcoming changes to the benefits system will increasingly make life without work more challenging. I firmly believe that it is better to have a job with the structure and self-respect that this brings however for many the types of job available to them will not make for fulfilling employment.

I don’t believe there are solutions to the bifurcation. The Luddites demonstrated the futility of taking on technology and markets. However go to any UK town and there will be a college offering free training. Meanwhile the quantity and range of online training is vast.

It is easy to stigmatise the unemployed and there are certainly many who abuse the system or make no effort to help themselves. However I believe the majority simply meandered through education and early adult decisions and then found themselves in a position where options were few and employment choices bleak. I don’t want to trivialise the challenges of up-skilling or being different in a community where unemployment is the norm, however the more I think about it the more the solution is with the individual and not society. Government can enable however each person has to make his or her own choice as to what discomfort will be endured in order to bring about personal change or change for one’s children.

You can lead a horse to water but can you make it drink?

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Mixing metaphors, the elephant in the corner of outplacement is the extent to which job seekers accept and act on the guidance they are offered.  A good many do.  They take advantage of the knowledge and experience offered them and benefit accordingly.  But a meaningful proportion does not.  For reasons such as cynicism, depression, pessimism, disillusionment and lack of confidence they simply don’t engage with the process.  A negative spiral kicks in and the consequences can be long-term unemployment.

This is very frustrating for all concerned.  The people who work at my company, MyWorkSearch, and our competitors get up in the morning with the intention of helping job seekers.  We passionately care about the results we achieve and are saddened by those who don’t take the useful guidance that is made available to them.

This is the leading the horse to water bit.  But what about the drinking?

Last year, in October, I wrote about how we had identified this as an area we wanted to research (https://blog.alberg.co.uk/2009/10/23/the-job-search-conundrum/) and stated that I would return to this as a topic.  Since then we have made considerable progress.  Our research has helped us discover the areas to focus on and our design and development teams have made great strides in implementing improvements.  For example:

Usability is an area we have to work really hard on as if it is difficult or not obvious what to do next a proportion of people will give up.  We have transformed MyWorkSearch with a comprehensive redesign. We have looked at ‘user journeys’ and tried to eliminate the areas where a person can get confused and cease activities.

Allowing flexibility whilst providing the option of a guided route.  Some people want the freedom to self-serve our advice, content and tools.  Others want to be guided through a stepped process.  One size does not fit all and providing this choice removes usage barriers.

Sometimes there is provision for a person to assist individuals as they progress on their path to re-employment.  Knowing who is succeeding and who needs help is key to providing targeted assistance that makes the most of this expensive resource.  We therefore developed a reporting engine that allows a person to see who amongst a group is effectively using MyWorkSearch and the job seekers that would benefit from personal assistance.

The above are all hygiene areas.  They are the basics of a sensibly designed system.  Although they may not be easy to get right we know that they are essential for an effective online re-employment solution.  The area that has most long-term potential and goes above these quality foundations is our Nudge Engine.

Our Nudge Engine is designed to understand each job seeker as an individual and provide personalised guidance and prompts that nudge the person towards the best outcome possible.  Through understanding human psychology and statistics we can populate our Nudge Engine with rules that help each person get the most from MyWorkSearch.

We started work on the Nudge Engine a few months ago and it is about to go live.  We see these personalised small steps as the key to helping individuals succeed.  I will let you know how we progress.

The job search conundrum

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Looking at how people use MyWorkSearch and MyNewjob.me has thrown up an interesting challenge. Since our process is managed by sophisticated software we know what our users are doing and equally what they are not. What has become clear is that a noticeable proportion of new users are not particularly active. There is a disconnect between stated job search activity and actual job search activity. Unfortunately by the time they find out just how difficult it can be to get a job in this market many of them are thoroughly demoralised and their job-search effectiveness reduces.

Our ability to track what people are really doing as opposed to what they state they are doing is opening up tremendous possibilities for the career transition profession.  We can research ways of encouraging job-seekers and see what processes really do result in higher activity levels and which ones do not. I know that the answers will be fascinating and this is a subject I will return to in future posts.

On a personal level I find this interesting and frustrating. Unlike losing weight, getting fit, or giving up smoking, a successful job-search process is not a lifelong change. It is something that for many may not be a lot of fun, however do it assiduously for several months and a new job should be secured. The pressure is then off and normal life can resume. However logical this may be the realities of human behaviour are different. This is a very important challenge for our team and one we are committed to.