Imagine the bots are coming…

Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE

Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE is Co-Director, CareerChat UK & Director, dmh associates

In today’s world, change is occurring at an unprecedented rate. Societies everywhere are undergoing a deep transformation. The Covid-19 pandemic, Industry 4.0 disruption, climate change, and an ageing workforce have become realities impacting on the social and economic fabric of our UK society. Advances in technology are creating new tipping points that can trigger new ways in which customers and practitioners can access trustworthy career information, advice and guidance at anytime of the day or night.

The notion of ‘career’ is a complex and contentious term, particularly in a Covid-19 context. Job roles and labour markets are changing rapidly. Job security has been abruptly and cruelly diminished for many, without warning. Staying healthy, being able to pay the bills and findinging meaningful work are key priorities for many individuals and families.

The deepening divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is forcing us all to consider how best to prepare for a fast-changing world of work. More local and online places and spaces for inclusive employability and career development support are needed. This is crucial in supporting individuals’ education, economic and well-being outcomes. If ever there was a moment in time to take stock and improve the life chances of individuals surely now is the time.

Latest ONS employment statistics in the UK show some seeds of hope. The current employment rate is estimated at 75.2%, 1.4 percentage points lower than before the pandemic (December 2019 to February 2020), but 0.2 percentage points higher than the previous quarter. The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 4.7%, 0.8 percentage points higher than before the pandemic, but 0.3 percentage points lower than the previous quarter. Economic inactivity rate is estimated at 21.0%, 0.8 percentage points higher than before the pandemic, but largely unchanged on the quarter. The Learning & Work Institute reports “Job vacancies are around 657,000 – up on the quarter, but still below pre-pandemic levels.” The effects of the extended period of lockdown and the end of furlough are yet to be fully realised. Young people, the lowest paid and females (more adversely than males) are likely to be disproportionately affected by the crisis. Evidence shows prolonged periods out of work will have lasting negative impacts on their wellbeing, health, incomes and future employment.

There are deep rooted inequalities such as an erosion of level 2 and below education and training provision in England. Digital poverty and the North/South divide are major concerns. For example, the Lloyds’ Consumer Digital Index 2020 found that nine million people in the UK are “digitally excluded”, with no or limited access to the internet. 40 per cent are based in northern England, in the cities and regions hit hardest by the wave of local Tier 3 lockdowns. This means new and innovative solutions are needed to tailor and target youth and employability support over the coming years.

Since March 2020, a team of highly experienced researchers and technology experts have worked on the creation of a unique and innovative Careers Chatbot (CiCi), powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. We believe that bots and humans can work together. You hear a lot about bots and technology being disruptive, but they do not need to be. This work is greatly influenced by the idea of social technology, of using combined human and digital resources to influence social processes – this can help individuals to prepare for possibilities rather than just simply make plans. CiCi the careers chatbot prototype (online demo) is all about empowering individuals to explore IAG anytime of the day or night with back up support from employability and/or careers professionals. This ‘safety net’ is vital for more in-depth conversations, to help people think through and act on their preferences.

CiCi knows where to go, using AI and machine learning, to draw on a range of data from various sources. The chatbot can accommodate multiple datasets with many Applications Program Interfaces (APIs) designed to extract relevant information and present this in a brief narrative form to the user.

There is a “wicked question” about value-added. Politicians, practitioners and professional bodies have always got to ask themselves the question “If I was laid off tomorrow, where would I go for career support?” It is a hard question to answer. But if we cannot answer that question with some degree of confidence, then there is something wrong in the system, and in our society. The role of chatbots, powered by AI and machine learning, are on the ascendency. Local places and online spaces for trustworthy employability and career development support are essential now and in the future.

Imagine what we could do if we got the national, regional and local architecture right, and we had trustworthy IAG that enables meaningful employability and career development conversation to flow, particularly with those most in need. Imagine using a chatbot’s capacity to complement – not compete with – the work of practitioners. Imagine what a wonderful application in social technology that could be.

For further information:



Twitter: @deirdretalks

A roadmap: How technology can and should support work coaches


Richard Alberg, CEO, Aptem Employ

In the context of rising unemployment, the employment services industry has been placed at the centre of employability plans. Central to UK government policy has been the doubling of ‘work coaches’. Yet thus far, little has been said which elucidates their role in aiding the newly unemployed, work-ready jobseeker.

I felt it would be useful to look at the role of work coaches and how technology maps into their role in the new employability environment.

The aims and goals of employment services

In my experience, the employment services industry has two main purposes. The first is to get people into work who otherwise wouldn’t be able to find employment – the section of society who might be long-term unemployed, or who need additional help to find work because they face different obstacles (those with disabilities, lone parents or older workers, for example). The second is to enable people to get into employment more quickly, which has knock on effects for social mobility and social justice.

Employment services may also have a third goal, to enable upskilling so the work secured is better paid and more sustainable.

Delivering high-quality programmes at scale is expensive. A funder should decide the balance between expense and ambition. Having done so, it will want the programme to operate as efficiently as possible, so goals are achieved and waste minimised.

So far, the UK government has committed to double the number of work coaches available to help the surge in unemployment. But given the employability sector – specifically job centres – are already struggling under the weight of Universal Credit applications and case management, can an additional 13,000 work coaches really make a dent?

This is where technology comes in, which, when done well, can facilitate scaled efficiency for those already work-ready while complementing the role of work coaches so they can focus on what they do best – teaching job seeking skills and mindset transformations.

Work coaches and technological enhancements

So how can technology assist and enhance the role of work coaches?

First and foremost, if job seeking uses an end-to-end platform that enables self-service (or self-sufficiency) by those jobseekers who are work ready, all the work coach needs to do is log on to their case load to see progress. Enhance those programmes with advanced data analytics and easy to digest reporting statistics (made possible by Power BI dashboards) and real time, at a glance monitoring becomes possible.

Secondly, we need to understand that the pandemic sets limits on face-to-face interactions. However, work coaching sessions can be conducted via Zoom, which have proven to be similar to face to face appointments in terms of engagement while also teaching the kinds of tech skills jobseekers will need.

Thirdly, technology delivers full personalisation, something that has been all but unachievable so far (read for example, this research on employability services for lone parents). Employability programmes can be customised at the provider and individual level, meaning that needs can be met in a more focused and efficient way.

Fourthly, if work coaches are not spending their time on needless administration and monitoring, they can more effectively develop effective relationships with jobseekers. Work coaching, in my opinion, is more effective when it is an effective psychological contract between coach and jobseeker – teaching skills of self-management and mindset as they negotiate the turbulent and challenging job market.

Finally, and to return to the importance of data, technology has the potential to take human error and undeveloped instinct out of the case management system. When the work coach can track evidence as to progress, be alerted to problems of delays, understand where jobseekers might be struggling, it takes the guesswork out of coaching.

The current state of tech

What would that kind of supportive technology look like? At Aptem, we are constantly working on new innovations. However, this is the bottom line in good practice for employability technology:

A modern system architecture that is capable of sophisticated workflow automation and functionality. What this means in layperson’s terms is that the system should handle the jobseeker’s employment journey without the need for advanced technical knowledge or intervention by the jobseeker or their coach. Tasks will be automated and intuitively accessible, meaning coach and jobseekers can spend time where it matters – an example being the tracking of targeted employers or application tracking.

Service deliverers and service recipients should all be on the same system, meaning that interactions can be tracked.  It’s essential that work coaches can see jobseeker activity, for example, including their searches, applications, CVs, rather than waiting for information from the jobseeker. This allows for a proactive, rather than reactive, coaching relationship. A case management system is no longer enough; any employability technology platform should be a convergence of powerful case management and a self-service jobseeker portal.

Data should be used to measure inputs and outputs at a granular level and iterate towards successful outcomes. Recent developments in reporting and data visualisation can deliver powerful analysis at an organisational, work coach and individual jobseeker level. It means that work coaches can effectively manage their caseloads and apply intervention where necessary in real-time, and providers can easily access and monitor their programme performance.

Offer eLearning and soft skills training as a core-part of the system, to enable people to retrain or develop their skills as part of their employability programme.

Offer an end-to-end solution that supports the provider through the whole journey, from an individual being referred to the service through to them getting a job and staying in that job. The platform must also be able to integrate with any existing technology, seamlessly, to remove duplication.

The future of employability technology

There is an additional step change that technology can offer, to ensure the ‘best in class’ programme delivery.

Deploying nudge capability – technology can be used to deliver nudges to positively shape jobseekers’ behaviour (rather than punitive sanctions) without the work coach’s involvement. This could range from reminders to chase up applications to prompts towards proactivity.

Machine learning to deliver job search results that are not only based on what the jobseeker inputs into their profile, but what they have interacted with in the past, applied for and achieved a positive first stage outcome.

And speculating on what we know to be possible but isn’t yet in operation, we could be looking at:

Deep levels of programme personalisation based upon all aspects of interaction with the programme and platform.

Ever more sophisticated nudging powered by behavioural science.

Bot technology to monitor vacancies and automate credible, quality, relevant applications.

Advisor / jobseeker matching based upon probability of success.

In-work support using sentiment analysis to reveal problems and minimise attrition.

The benefits of technology and its ability to track and report means that it is also easier to calculate the efficiencies it offers. This not only offers assurances to providers that they are performing adequately, but it also means proof of concept when it comes to managing government procurement processes.

Better data also delivers research capability – the ability to inform others about ‘what works’ for job seeking and understand in better detail the dilemmas that jobseekers face in new employment conditions.

The employment sector does a valiant and difficult job and, moreover, faces significant challenges as we enter this period of unemployment growth. But we believe that technology can help deliver a more effective service, meaning mitigations in both the financial and human costs of unemployment.

About the Author: Richard Alberg is CEO of Aptem, the award-winning SaaS technology company specialising in vocational training and employability. Aptem Employ is Aptem’s cutting-edge employability platform that draws upon technology, psychology and data science to empower providers to deliver fundamentally more efficient programmes that demonstrably achieve superior outcomes.

Technology is a core part of the CAEHRS framework

Richard Alberg.jpg

Technology is a core part of the CAEHRS framework
Richard Alberg is Managing Director of Aptem Employ

Digital services are one of the criteria for the Department of Work and Pensions CAEHRS framework for employability procurement. So how can you access the technology you need to ensure a viable bid?

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) set out a new method for contracting employment services in June 2020. The Commercial Agreement for the provision of Employment and Health Related Services (CAEHRS) is planned to run for up to five years and will be worth £7.5bn.

The purpose of CAEHRS is to create a more efficient and responsive system of procurement and one that will generate a pre-determined list of suppliers who meet the Department’s minimum standards.

There are two tiers of suppliers, based on the size of contract and capacity, ensuring big projects can be delivered while allowing for diversity in the marketplace. The DWP say a third tier is planned for SMEs and VSCEs (voluntary, community and social enterprises) later in the year.


At a market engagement event in June, the DWP outlined eight characteristics a good supplier would need. The following is criterion seven:

“Commitment to increase and improve digital services as part of DWP’s ambition to be the most effective and efficient delivery organisation in the public sector.”

Until recently, employability strategies were primarily based around the long-term unemployed who needed specialist support to re-enter the workforce. In the wake of Covid-19, the UK faces the prospect of significant numbers of recently unemployed ‘work ready’ people who need efficient and targeted assistance to find a new role.

This problem is where technology comes in. Technology is disrupting every sector of the economy, and recruitment and employability are no exception. Technology can offer accessible and flexible training in all aspects of job-seeking as well as advanced job searching and tracking capacity. Integrated as part of an employability programme that includes job coaching and other person-led delivery, technology can offer catch-all services that can empower the large, work-ready population.

But what does the DWP mean when it talks about a commitment to increase and improve digital services? I’d argue it means more than a slightly tweaked case management platform. A viable bidder requires a new approach to digital enablement, one that digitally enables users with the most sophisticated job searching tools while ensuring compliance and progress monitoring.

We know the government is interested in big data. The ability to use data analytics to monitor the progress and success of job seekers in real-time is an absolute must.

So what kind of technology is needed to create a stand out employability bid?

Aptem Employ

The solution to this is where I come in – or more accurately, the product I deliver. Aptem Employ is technology’s response to growing unemployment in the UK and your answer to making a compelling bid.

With Aptem Employ, users can search across all job boards and agencies, assist in CV writing, target the job pages of their favourite employers, track applications and search for their social media skeletons. Aptem Employ’s advice centre has eLearning resources which can help users identify their skills, reframe their mindset, write the best CV, ace their job interview and more.

A SaaS, Microsoft Azure-hosted platform with no software, servers or maintenance required, Aptem Employ offers infinite scalability, cutting edge security and advanced data analytics to track progress and organisational performance.

We know that when job seekers and their providers are given the interactive tools, tracking information and insights to aid their job search, the results are impressive. Aptem Employ:

  • Reduced time it took jobseekers to find work by 50%
  • Enabled 62% to find a job within three months, compared to an industry average of 20%
  • Ensured jobseekers were 67% more likely to get a job.

The sheer volume of work needed to stave off mass unemployment in the Autumn is daunting. But technology can close the circle of need. We know the DWP believes in the power of technology to transform lives. Why not take a look and see if we can help?

Aptem Employ is a unique, award-winning system that combines powerful case management with a self-service jobseeker portal, helping to get people back into work quickly and for the long-term. Find out more. Get in touch

Aptem delivers award-winning innovative Saas technology solutions to enable skills development and employability. Find out how our solutions, Aptem Apprentice, Aptem Skills, Aptem Employ and Aptem Enrol, drive compliance and operational efficiency, and deliver business control.

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Cybersecurity functionality critical for CAEHRS digital employability solutions


Cybersecurity functionality critical for CAEHRS digital employability solutions

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), as part of its Commercial Agreement for the Provision of Employment and Health Related Services (CAEHRS), prioritises the role of digital solutions to employability programmes. How do providers ensure that the digital solutions they offer are cybersecure?

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) outlined eight characteristics the right supplier would need. As we know, criteria seven says there is a “commitment to increase and improve digital services as part of DWP’s ambition to be the most effective and efficient delivery organisation in the public sector.”

This criterion makes good sense. In the autumn, the UK is likely to face rising unemployment, particularly when furlough is wound down. However, those newly unemployed have a very different skill set to the long-term unemployed. They are ‘work ready’ and well equipped to search and find new employment opportunities.

Aptem Employ, with its knowledge gap-filling eLearning and excellent job search and tracking tools, offers the kind of end-to-end management these job seekers need. They don’t need extensive hand-holding. What they do need is the most broad-ranging and intuitive technology that can be accessed by phone, tablet or computer.


We also know the DWP, like other government agencies, places critical emphasis on cybersecurity for any products procured to deliver their contracts. All digital services need to ensure the privacy of the recruitment process for job seekers and employers alike. They will expect employability providers and their digital partners to provide evidence against published guidance and independent assessment.


The UK has some pretty strict data protection laws, including the Data Protection Act 2018 and GDRP. The whole purpose is to protect user data and ensure privacy and control over the use of private data. And government data also needs to have the highest level of protection. But it’s also about politics and crime.

In July 2020, Wired produced a list of the biggest hacks and phishing breaches that have occurred this year. Among them is the hacktivist network Anonymous who broke into US law enforcement databases and stole 269 gigabytes of data. Cyber attacks by nation stakes have escalated in recent years. Security Boulevard reported that, in the first sixth months of 2020, nearly 16 billion records had been exposed and various Fortune 500 companies have experienced significant data breaches. 

More familiar perhaps is the attack on Twitter, where 130 high profile, verified accounts were targeted and fake posts with a Bitcoin money scam posted from these profiles.

Sounds scary. But tech companies are also getting good at evading criminals and scammers. And we’re one of them.

Aptem is cybersecure

We’ve always known that we’re good at cybersecurity. Our company is highly tech aware, we train our staff regularly, and we are ISO 27001 and Cyber Essentials Plus certified.

We also have a unique approach to client databases. The industry standard is a single shared database that the software provider manages.

We, however, recognised the sensitive nature of the personal information in our database. So to facilitate increased security – as well as scalability, customisability and performance – we designed a multi-tenant environment. Each customer has its own entirely separate database. This innovation is unique to Aptem, and it has meant that among our clients are security-sensitive organisations such as the Ministry of Justice, police and the NHS.

Aptem Employ, our employability training and job-seeking platform is being relaunched in September, and we wanted to make absolutely sure it had reached the gold standard of security expected from Aptem. So we hired a cybersecurity specialist to audit the platform.

The result? Independently assessed and audited against the ‘10 Steps to Cyber Security’, designed by the UK’s NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) and which includes assessments of risk management, malware prevention, network security and user privacy, we have been rated as ‘strongly aligned’ to the ten steps that will protect organisations from cyber-attack.

The report says:

“In terms of its use of technology and the technical controls it has in place, there is no doubt that the company benefits from its whole-system dependency on a single vendor technology stack, including Azure for its servers, SQL Server for databases, Microsoft 365 for its office applications, and Windows 10 on all endpoints.

“The combination of the company’s size, their use of up-to-date technology, and their ability to act quickly result in a strong security posture.

“Most importantly, the leadership recognise the serious consequences which could arise for the business if they don’t take information risk seriously. This has resulted in an organisation where a healthy security culture is grown and where the resulting behaviours align well with the intent of the 10 Steps.”

So if you are looking for a company to deliver an employability platform with the secure digital services the DWP have in mind, then take a look at Aptem Employ.