Artificial intelligence at the service of jobseekers
Refugees and immigrants arrive in a new country rich in skills and experience for a lifetime, but they often have difficulty demonstrating their talent to employers.
Mobile apps and smart software facilitate difficult entry of refugees into a new labour market
Worse still, newcomers have no contacts or friends locally who can play a key role in their job search.
Based in Amsterdam, the start-up SkillLab wants to “democratize” career guidance, in the words of Karim Bin-Humam, one of the founders of this social enterprise. Through a mobile app and software based on artificial intelligence, the company helps job-seekers identify their skills and shows them how they can be used in a new labor market. SkillLab signs contracts with national employment agencies and other organizations to improve services to customers.
Take the example of Omar, originally from Yemen, who arrived in the Netherlands in 2016 with a high school diploma in his pocket. He had worked in retail and real estate in Saudi Arabia but was struggling to find a job in his new host country. In 2018, he volunteered at an animal shelter, two days a week, while continuing to look for work.
In December 2019, in collaboration with the employment agency of the city of Amsterdam, he took a test to assess his skills with skill labs “SkillMap” application. With the help of the advisor in charge of his file, Omar identified the logistics sector as an interesting area that matched his skills and offered an opportunity to start a new career. Equipped with his application file and data produced by the SkillMap application, Omar and his advisor contacted potential employers.
“The app really helped me showcase my skills like I hadn’t been able to do in previous interviews, because it gave me time to explore them in-depth in my native language and present them in the way that seemed most accurate to me,” Omar says.
Focus on skills
“I have always wanted to work for equal opportunities,” says Karim Bin-Humam. “Many offers are based on degrees obtained, universities attended and positions held, which convey a certain image. People like refugees, who do not tick these boxes, are often left out, even when they have valuable skills to offer. »
Founded in 2018, SkillLab was one of the finalists in the 2020 edition of the Social Innovation Competition, an initiative of the EIB Institute to help companies tackle societal problems. SkillLab has won several other awards. It was one of 20 companies to obtain a grant from Google in 2019 after participating in a competition on how artificial intelligence can be used to address society’s issues.
Not all users of skill lab software are refugees. Some have lost their jobs due to the introduction of new technologies, outsourcing, and other changes in the labor market. The SkillLab app works in 27 languages, including Arabic. And according to Christoph Bretgeld, co-founder of the company with Karim Bin-Humam, one of the keys to the success of their system is the replacement of job titles with the word “skills”.
“A job title in one culture can mean something completely different in another culture,” he says. “But skills are easier to translate.”
For him, another advantage of SkillLab’s approach is that it provides a sense of autonomy and dignity in the job search.
“Our database includes nearly 14,000 skills. When someone asks us to mention our competencies, even you and I struggle to answer that question. But when artificial intelligence does this, it quickly identifies the skills and determines which ones are likely to be associated. The application helps to accurately present skills and experience and can also allow you to create a professional CV in a language that you do not master.
Ultimately, job seekers – including people who haven’t worked for years – often say they didn’t realize how many skills they had and that helping to spot them builds their confidence, according to Bretgeld. With a more complete picture of their areas of expertise, these people have a better idea of where to look for work and what training or studies could enhance their value in the eyes of employers.
SkillLab’s software also helps agencies and organizations make the most of their resources, especially when much of the work has to be done remotely due to the COVID-19 crisis. Karim Bin-Humam cites the example of an employment agency in Thessaloniki, where a large number of refugees need help to find work.
“This is a Herculean task for the agency, which has to take care of 300 to 400 people a month and also face a language barrier, as most of these job seekers do not speak Greek,” he explains.
In just two years, the SkillLab team has grown rapidly: it now has 15 members and plans to welcome several more in the first months of 2021. The company has signed contracts with several European cities, as well as with the Finnish authorities and several Latin American countries. It also works with the International Labour Organization, which licenses SkillLab to partner organizations in Jordan and Egypt.
According to Christoph Bretgeld, many members of the SkillLab team brought their volunteer experience and were looking to make a greater impact through technology.
“The work is constructive because it is a source of dignity and it helps define our identity,” he concludes. “We sought to give these people a sense of opportunity, opportunity, and inclusion.”