From education to employment

Meet Bob – AI-powered ‘job coach’ wins Nesta Challenges and Department for Education Prize

Meet Bob - AI-powered ‘job coach’

#AI-powered ‘job coach’ Bob wins @Nesta_UK and @EducationGovUK Prize 

A pioneering online coaching platform to provide adults across England with customised employment advice has today been unveiled as the winner of the #CareerTechChallenge Prize, part of a major £5.75m initiative by Nesta and the Department for Education to scale up tech solutions that can benefit workers around the country.  

  • 9 in 10 workers will need to be retrained or learn new skills in the next decade, due to new technologies or a changing economy
  • UK unemployment recently hit a five year high of 5.1%, driven by the economic impact of COVID-19
  • Bob, an open-source technology developed by non-profit Bayes Impact and tested with community organisation ACH, provides tailored, practical and motivating advice to workers and jobseekers.
  • Bob has been awarded £120,000 is the winner of the CareerTech Challenge Prize, part of a major £5.75m initiative by Nesta and the Department for Education to scale up tech solutions that can benefit workers around the country.

With more than six million people in the UK employed in roles that are likely to change radically or disappear entirely by 2030, and the pandemic continuing to cause significant employment challenges, the aim is to increase the winning solution’s reach to particularly support lower earning workers most at risk of losing their jobs due to automation.

Bob is an open-source technology developed by the non-profit organisation, Bayes Impact. It analyses information about people’s job search needs and the challenges they face, providing tailored, practical, and motivating advice to support them into work. Acting as an impartial job counsellor, Bob helps users understand how their skills and job application techniques fit with those required by employers, giving them clear steps to secure relevant roles. Jobseekers can then receive ongoing digital coaching via email, text, and an app that delivers personalised motivational support, helping its users to feel continuously supported.

Following an 18-month process with 20 innovators across the country, a panel of expert judges selected Bob as the tech tool with the greatest potential to support jobseekers into fulfilling work. Internationally, Bob has already successfully coached over 250,000 people, with 88% satisfied with the relevance of its advice and 41% finding a job or pursuing further training within three months of using it. As the winner of the CareerTech Challenge Prize, Bob’s designers Bayes Impact, and their research partner ACH will receive £120,000 to continue to develop and grow their solution so that as many people as possible can benefit.

As part of Bob’s development, Bayes Impact worked with an expert in cognitive psychology to understand how to encourage people to turn information into action, and with career advisors from their partner, ACH. 80% of its users report that Bob’s advice is equally or more personalised compared to in-person coaching, and 41% report that Bob’s coaching was a key factor in finding a job. Bob is designed to be adaptable to different areas,  incorporating local data and resources for diverse audiences, with a focus on meeting the needs of people who often miss out on career support – including refugees. 

The CareerTech Challenge was launched in October 2019 to nurture promising tech solutions to support working adults in England most at risk of rapid labour market change – specifically people without a degree, and working in sectors expected to change substantially due to automation, including retail, manufacturing, and transport.As a result of the pandemic, it was expanded to support those on furlough. 

Research suggests that 9 in 10 workers need to learn new skills or be retrained entirely over the next decade to adapt to changes caused by new technologies and a changing economy. Yet adults who most need career information and support are often least likely to access it. 

While the CareerTechChallenge launched before the pandemic, the impacts of COVID-19 have increased the urgency of helping people to find secure employment. Today marks one year since the first UK lockdown was announced, and UK unemployment recently hit a five-year high of 5.1%.

Tris Dyson, Managing Director at Nesta Challenges said:

“We’re hugely excited by Bob’s potential to get highly relevant employment support to adults across England. This pioneering platform is bringing tailored, engaging career support tools to the people that need it most, ensuring that nobody misses out.”

“Even before the major employment concerns caused by the pandemic, automation was transforming the skills required for a whole range of jobs. Faced with this challenging  employment landscape, it’s critical that workers and job seekers have access to the information and tools they need to succeed – helping ensure they feel well prepared for their future employment. While our judges were hugely impressed by all the innovations put forwards, Bob’s accessibility really stood out, and we’re confident that a diverse range of people will benefit from using it to find rewarding work.”

Bob has been brought to the UK by two non-profit organisations – Bayes Impact, which uses technology to tackle social issues, and ACH, a social enterprise providing integration and employment support to refugees in Bristol, Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry. Bayes Impact partnered with ACH to help bring Bob to the UK market after initial success delivering the innovation in France. 

The CareerTech Challenge judges also highlighted the importance of Bob being an open source platform, which means that its source code is publicly available to use, modify, and redistribute – which will help accelerate wider innovation and impact in the careers advice sector.

Paul Duan, co-founder of Bayes Impact, said: 

“Bob helps to ensure no one is left behind as the job market goes through significant shifts, and that everyone has access to impartial, data-driven careers advice. We’re thrilled to secure this backing to help us reach even more people, and we look forward to supporting many more jobseekers around England into fulfilling work. By harnessing the power of AI to analyse the UK labour market, our technology identifies career and skills trends to provide tailored advice that ultimately helps people into well-paid employment.”

Since April last year, 20 shortlisted solutions for the CareerTech Challenge have received expert guidance and £50,000 each to develop and test their tech concepts.  

The CareerTech Challenge Prize’s runner-up was also named today as Would You Rather Be, an AI-powered career app to help people find career happiness  – which has been awarded £80,000 to further increase its reach and impact. Users answer 10 minutes of quick-fire questions and the platform calculates the careers they’d thrive in, and generates hyper-personalised pathways into each with to-do lists including time, cost and available funding. Since the start of the Prize, the app has had over 40,000 users, with 82% of people rating their experience 4 or 5 out of 5 stars, and 84% saying it helped them discover or get into a career they would enjoy.

Gillian Keegan, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, said: 

“The fantastic innovations from the CareerTech Challenge have already started helping adults across the country gain the skills and support they need to find sustainable work. This investment has unlocked cutting-edge technologies which are now more relevant than ever, given the changing job landscape. I’d like to congratulate the creators of the Artificial Intelligence platform Bob and thank all the participants for developing these bold new solutions to improve people’s lives and unlock new job opportunities.” 

Anyone wanting to explore their career options for free can access Would You Rather Be via their website. The team are also currently looking to work with employers, recruiters and training providers, as well as across the education sector.

Organisations with information or services they’d like recommended by Bob can contact Bob’s content team at [email protected], or read more about the technology on Bayes Impact’s website. 

More information on all 20 innovations supported through the CareerTech Challenge Prize are available on the programme’s website

DfE granted Nesta £5 million to manage the CareerTech Challenge with Nesta contributing a further £750,000.  As well as the prize announced today the CareerTech Challenge also had a fund which supported innovators with a grant of up to £250,000 per project to test online learning designed to upskill or retrain precarious workers.

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