Equality & Inclusion
Josh Clarke: Occumi
Finding a job after graduating can be daunting, and research has shown that first generation students and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds often struggle the most when it comes to knowing how to sell themselves to employers. COVID-19 is creating even greater challenges. Graduates are having to be flexible to adapt to the changing jobs market and are being forced to harness their transferable skills more than ever. Services that support employability in the current context can make all the difference, and one such service is Occumi. Hear from co-founder Josh Clarke on how Occumi’s research backed algorithm is supporting students and graduates to maximise their recruitment potential.
By Josh Clarke.
My name is Josh Clarke and I am the co-founder of Occumi, a platform that uses an advanced skills-identifying algorithm to meaningfully change the way that employers recruit young people.
The initial idea came to me and my co-founder, Joe Shepherd, whilst we were both at university. In 2017, Joe graduated with a degree in History and I with a degree in Psychology. We were both worried about how we were going to find employment after graduating, as we knew that we would be competing with alumni from more prestigious universities than our own.
We were both first generation students with a lack of social capital. Like many in our position, this meant that we had absolutely no idea of the opportunities that were available to us, what employers were looking for, or how to sell ourselves. However, we knew that, regardless of our backgrounds, we could be more suitable for a role than an individual from a more highly rated university – if we were able to identify our unique selling points. It was at this moment when we realised that tens of thousands of students across the country were likely to be in exactly the same position as us.
We felt that the solution was in knowing and identifying your own transferable skills. We had educational qualifications and relevant work experience – but we had never really been made to think about how some of the skills we had developed from these experiences could benefit us in a “real” job. It was this thinking that led us to begin researching a concept for Occumi’s skills-identifying algorithm.
Getting Occumi off the ground
We wanted to do everything properly, and as objectively as possible. After working closely with HR departments, three key issues we found across industries when recruiting young people were: a lack of diversity of young talent coming into the business, a high turnover of graduate and junior employees, and an inefficient amount of resource being spent on analysing applicants.
We spent two years conducting all of the additional research that sits behind Occumi’s skills identifying algorithm. So far, we have included over 1,800 data points form sources such as employers, academics and course outlines to identify an individual’s skills. Over 600 university lecturers, industry professionals and academic societies have also contributed to the accuracy and reliability of Occumi’s skills generation.
Our research presented two key finds: The first, that many students do not know the transferable skills they have developed, nor do they realise the importance of them in the graduate employment market. They therefore struggle to sell themselves to employers. This issue is particularly prevalent with those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. The second find highlighted problems in early recruitment processes that risked favouring individuals from particular demographics. We were not satisfied with the psychometric solutions and aptitude tests currently being used in interviews, as they too had been shown to favour those from certain backgrounds and contribute to lack of diversity coming into an organisation.
Once we had put all of our research into developing an algorithm, we knew that we had to actively test it to ensure that we were identifying skills relevant to employers. We ran a pilot of the algorithm with an employer in the advertising agency, using Occumi to filter applicants based on the transferable skills desired. This allowed us to test the algorithm in a real-world setting and see whether the skills Occumi identified were relevant to employers. The success of this pilot showed that the correct identification of skills had real potential to improve the quality of aspiring candidate applications, whilst adding value to the application filtering process in graduate schemes.
Since then, we have continued to research and develop, and are proud to have launched two products that work to reduce two main issues in early career recruitment:
• Occumi Education Tool: Our education tool helps students and graduates to identify, understand and articulate the transferable skills that they have developed, regardless of their background.
• Occumi Recruitment tool: Used by employers, our recruitment tool filters applicants applying for graduate and junior positions by identifying their transferable skills, which enables employers easily highlight the right applicant for the role. Occumi’s skills-based approach helps to make recruitment more diverse by ensuring that every applicant has their skills accurately represented, regardless of their background or socio-economic status.
A lot of the funding for developing the platform has come from successful grant applications and winning competitions from organisations such as Santander Universities.
Renavigating and supporting students during COVID-19
There were definitely moments when we weren’t sure whether the direction we were going in was the right one.
We initially had much more of a focus on working with employers through the recruitment tool, helping them to filter applicants based on their skills rather than their background. Though we still offer this service, over the past 18 months we have put more of our focus into the student support side of our business and developed the education tool. We made this decision as we knew that students and graduates themselves needed a better understanding on the importance of transferable skills, especially those from lower socio-economic backgrounds who were less likely to have the existing network to help them navigate the start of their career. If we weren’t helping them identify these things, then their profiles were still not going to catch the attention of the employers.
Looking back at the decision, I think this focus shift was right for us. Given the rising levels of unemployment and additional need for retraining caused by COVID-19, the demand for a better understanding on transferable skills has reached new heights. The current climate has meant that there will be a lot of students and graduates who have to be more flexible with the roles they take on before being able to start their dream career.
Like the rest of the world, I think we have learnt a lot from the pandemic. Naturally, COVID-19 has caused issues for us, as it has been a big hit to the educational institutions that we work with. It has been frustrating as it has stalled our progress in some areas. However, what this did do was open up an extended period of time where we could focus on further improving and developing the platform, which is what we have been doing over the past 5-6 months.
I hope that, during COVID-19 and beyond, we will be able to continue to help many students identify the important transferable skills that they have been developing whilst working in part-time or temporary roles throughout the course of the pandemic.
My key learnings along the way
Youth leadership is vital to the future. I have been exposed to a number of fantastic start-ups founded by young people in various different industries and I think many are already positive leaders for others. We have also experienced that many existing leaders in business welcome fresh new ideas, so I think there will always be a key space for the youth leadership.
My top three tips for young people starting out are:
1. Do your research: Speak to your potential market and find out what their issues are, then identify how your idea can make a practical difference.
2. Expect the difficult times: There are going to be many tough moments, however if you can see past them and focus on why you are doing what you are doing, it will really help.
3. Don’t feel like an imposter: It can be easy for young people to feel like they don’t belong in a certain position due to a lack of experience. But if you have done the research and believe in your idea, you deserve to be in that position!
To learn more about Occumi visit Occumi.co.uk.
Article published: January 2020
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