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.
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