Helping people access the labour market:
An Interview with Pitch Competition Winner SkillLab
Following this year's GovTech Summit, we spoke to PitchGovTech winner Karim Bin-Humam about his startup SkillLab, his advice for GovTech founders, and future plans.
What is SkillLab and why did you embark on this venture?
SkillLab is a social venture helping governments and mission oriented organisations provide better career services to people by connecting their skills to employment and education. We started SkillLab with a problem and a mission. The problem we saw was that the way people connect to opportunities in the labour market is flawed. Employment services rely too heavily on titles, degrees and brand names to determine what people are capable of professionally. A job title is nice, but it doesn’t really describe your skills, and it definitely doesn’t tell you anything about how a person’s skills relate to anything other than that title. Beyond that, this approach to determining a person’s abilities is exclusionary because millions of people with real skills and valuable experiences often just don’t have a brand or a title attached to them. When you consider that more and more people find themselves out of work or are job insecure because of automation, climate change, forced migration, and even pandemics, it becomes clear that things need to be done differently. So it became our mission to change the way employment services connect people with opportunities to one that does so on the basis of skills.
How does your technology improve citizens' lives?
Our technology helps people to capture, document, and express their skills in relation to thousands of different professions in the labour market. Our Artificial Intelligence engine guides a person through a personalised skill interview that captures in granular detail the skills and knowledge that a person acquired during their various life experiences. Regardless of whether someone was professionally active, engaged in formal learning and education, or engaged in informal work or learning, our software helps them to capture and describe the skills they gained. It works the same way for a former factory worker as it does for a business analyst, collecting skills and returning insights about how the person’s skills compare with the skills required for thousands of different professions. It also shows them where they may have skill gaps for specific professions. In that way, we help people to explore their skills, and shine a light towards career pathways that build on their skills. The same skill profiles we build for people are shared with employment services to enable them to provide better, more data driven services to citizens.
How has Covid-19 affected what you do at SkillLab and how has your solution been able to help?
Covid-19 has had both positive and negative effects on what we do at SkillLab. In the short term, Covid-19 has had a slightly paralyzing effect on our partners. Some of the great work we were doing with employment services was temporarily put on hold as they scrambled to adjust to the new realities of Covid-19 with their own emergency priorities. But on the positive side, the increased pressure on labour markets has made it even more clear how important solutions like ours are, and has steadily led to more and more interest in our work. As our partners slowly return to some mode of regular operations under the new “normal” circumstances, our solution’s value to their work is even greater than before. We are enabling them to provide services remotely and efficiently by distributing our application to their citizens, thereby alleviating some of the burdens they carry under the current circumstances.
Congratulations on winning the Pitch Competition - do you have any advice for early stage founders trying to get into GovTech?
Be patient. De-Risk for your partners. Find the right expertise. Startups move quickly because they have to in order to gain traction, and by nature they operate surrounded by risk. Government tends to move carefully and avoid risk. Just because you have something that governments need, it doesn’t mean they are going to buy it. There are many hurdles that are there for good reason - to minimise all kinds of risks for the government. Data privacy, security and ownership, public tenders and other procurement procedures, are just a few of many examples. If you’re going to get your foot in the door you will have to be patient and reduce the amount of risk your partner is taking when partnering with you. Finally, if you can, make sure you have experienced expertise on your team that knows how to navigate the government maze and nurture the right relationships so that you’re speaking to the right people - otherwise you may find many dead ends before you get to the end of the maze.
What are the next steps for SkillLab?
For the rest of 2020 we will be focusing in large part on closing a seed fundraising round which will give us the resources to double down on our value proposition by putting more capacity into our product development. We plan to expand partnerships with governments in our core markets to bring skill-based career support to over 1.3 million people over the next 2 years. With that additional capacity, we also plan to expand our value proposition by connecting even more actors such as education service providers to our skills ecosystem so that people who use our software can connect to a broader range of services to help them in their career development.
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