Solution overview

Our Solution

Skilllab

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Tagline

A mobile career assistant app that identifies personalized career and upskilling pathways, based on an AI-assisted skill assessment

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Pitch us on your solution

How can marginalized workers and job seekers pursue new skillsets efficiently? It is challenging for anyone to navigate the virtually infinite number of useful skills, let alone for individuals characterized by hardships such as forced displacement, geographic isolation or a lack of formal education/experience.

Skilllab is a mobile app that empowers marginalized workers to take control of their skillsets, and to identify the straightest pathways toward their career goals. Starting with self-identified goals and experiences, our AI engine supports users in identifying their full skillsets from a 13,485-skill database, and outlines the applicability of these skills, drawing from a database of 2,942 occupations.

Our technology has already refugees across three continents discover the usefulness of their present skillsets, identify occupation-specific skill gaps/growth pathways, and explore remote up-skilling opportunities. This all despite significant structural, geographic and documentation-related hurdles – hurdles confronting millions across the LAC region.

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What is the problem you are solving?

According to the IDB, close to 50% of students in Latin America exit the education system without completing secondary school. For many, this last day of schooling marks the end of professional “upskilling”, with prospects thereafter limited to: i) employment in the unproductive informal sector, which employs over half of Latin Americans; or ii) no work or training at all, which characterizes roughly 40% of youth in the region.

This early perceived “termination date” for skill development is a significant contributor to the region’s immense skill gap, with even relatively advanced economies like Argentina, Colombia and Peru reporting 59%, 50% and 49% prevalence of companies that struggle to find appropriately skilled staff. Looking forward, this issue will only become more problematic, with McKinsey estimating that over 400 million individuals globally will lose their jobs to automation by 2030.

There is no reason upskilling must end so early, particularly in this era of unprecedented connectivity and high-quality online education. Based on their unique circumstances, marginalized and geographically isolated workers can use Skilllab’s technology to blaze the most direct upskilling pathway toward their unique goals, helping to make this intimidatingly large ecosystem of online resources more accessible, navigable and efficient.

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Who are you serving?

Labour displacement by migration and automation is shifting labour markets in all countries and challenges the traditional support structures for job seekers. Most affected are marginalized job seekers as:

  • Migrants, particularly refugees

  • Woman

  • Individuals from poor and disadvantaged communities 

  • Individuals affected by chronic diseases and disabilities

  • Older Individuals (50+)

  • LGTBQ

  • Rural communities

At the same time, companies suffer from economic damage as they cannot fill positions with the best possible candidates. 

In Latin America more specifically, according to the IDB up to 70% of workers in some major economies participate in the informal sector. Meanwhile, transitioning from the informal to the significantly more productive formal sector is encumbered by significant structural hurdles, including documentation of achievements, geography (i.e. rural vs urban), as well as - increasingly - immigration status. Skilllab‘s technology can support this transition in two principle ways: i) by documenting skills in a format that is easily digestible by formal sector employers, and ii) by helping informal workers identify the skills gaps that must be bridged in order to enter formal sector positions.

Through the use of our tool, job seekers can discover themselves on the level of skill and competences, and explore from there pathways to employment.

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What is your solution?

The core technology at work is a mobile application that performs highly detailed assessments to capture an individual’s employable skills, automatically generate and translate comprehensive skill profiles, and map a person’s unique skill set directly to occupations. Building on the European Skills/Competencies, Qualifications and Occupations framework (ESCO) model with 13485 unique skills and 2942 occupations, our AI based assessment engine guides the user through an interview process to capture all tasks performed and knowledge used in prior experiences. 

As the skill assessment identified all relevant skills of a job seeker, we can match that skill set to all available occupations on the labour market. This provides a complete orientation and helps job seekers to identify the occupations they are interested in. Based on a job seeker’s skill gap to a desired occupation, we aim to link publicly available online education content that directly addresses the skill gap. This is achieved by mapping our skill model into third party education content. We thereby create a digital personal career assistant that helps job seekers (with a focus on marginalized) to make smart career and education decisions. 

Users can perform the skill assessment in 27 different languages while the system automatically translates all output into the language of the host country (focus on Spanish and Portugese). 

While our system architecture incorporates many micro services, the core components are connected via APIs and can be reduced to:

  • Mobile application for job seekers to perform skill assessment and explore pathways to employment. Build in React and soon available on Playstore, App store as well as web application.

  • Web interface for career counsellors to explore results of skill assessments and to invite candidates. Written in React.

  • Skill Assessment Engine that “interviews” users on their skills and competences. Based on multiple machine learning algorithms written in Python, the engine determines which competences are queried as well as the duration of the assessment.

  • Back-end and system architecture in Ruby on Rails, running on Google Cloud Platform

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Select only the most relevant.

  • Deploy new and alternative learning models that broaden pathways for employment and teach entrepreneurial, technical, language, and soft skills
  • Provide equitable access to learning and training programs regardless of location, income, or connectivity throughout Latin America and the Caribbean
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Where our solution team is headquartered or located:

Amsterdam, Netherlands
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Our solution's stage of development:

Pilot

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More about your solution

Describe what makes your solution innovative.

Job seekers, case managers and career coaches use the resulting Skill Profiles to improve career planning, job search and vocational training.

In the vast majority of cases, existing solutions are based on unstructured interviews. While they address the right problem, key barriers prevented these models to succeed at a larger scale:

• Dependency on manual labour prevent scaling due to cost and quality control

• No human has the knowledge to perform skill assessments across all occupational backgrounds

• Language barriers prevent effective communication and require professional translators

• Dependency on grants prevent sustainable business models 

 

The key differentiators of our solution are:

• Granularity of skill assessment (13485 skills)

• Matches to occupations and identification of skill gaps

• Recommendations on online education content based on skill gap

• Automatic translation across 27 languages

• Assessment delivered through mobile application

• Continuous improvements to assessment as based on machine learning

 

Skilllab technology won the global Google AI Impact Challenge as well as the Google Accelerator working towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

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Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?

Based on the problems and challenges outlined above, our service offering is the answer to this question:

“How can we help marginalized job seekers to enter the formal labor market despite lacking a documented skill set and or access to career/learning services?”

Skilllab’s app helps marginalized groups in the LAC region overcome structural hurdles to upskilling and labor formality, by providing the service of:

1. Career Orientation: Through completing a skill assessment and exploring the matching results, job seekers gain an extensive understanding of their position in the labour market and available opportunity. Metric: job seekers completing career counselling.

Which leads to these two additional elements of our theory of change:

2. Upskilling and Training: On the basis of desired job opportunities, job seekers understand their skill gap and identify possible educational offerings that address it. Metric: Job seekers participating in education/training upon completing skill assessment.

3. Employment: Upon completion of skill assessment (and possibly training), job seekers successfully find a job or switch to a more desired job. Metric: Increase in net-income.

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How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?

Through product testing, Skilllab has been able to provide skill assessments to ca. 500 (1) marginalized refugees across Europe. While the early stages of our product have been focused on usability testing and improvements, we are currently implementing a metric tracking system based on theory of change focused on increasing the economic income of job seekers.

By the end of 2020, Skilllab will have provided 8500 (2) career orientations and will grow in reach exponentially from there. 

Within 5 years, it is our goal to provide 2 million (3) career orientations world wide. Those career orientations should result in the majority of cases in targeted educational choices and employment (see theory of change). He economic, societal, health and public safety benefits indirectly expand to a much bigger group of beneficiaries.

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What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?

Within the next 12 months, Skilllab aims to:

  • Raise 3-5 million USD in grants, investment and revenue

  • Start deploying it’s application at scale across Europe and the Middle East

  • Have concluded - or be near the conclusion of - pilots in 3+ Latin American countries, covering both refugee and non-refugee contexts

  • Significantly invest into its product and business development team

  • Fully integrate Youtube’s and Coursera’s educational content. Partnership discussions are already progressing

Within 5 years, Skilllab aims to:

  • Provide a minimum of 2 million career orientations (see prior question)

  • Link to the most relevant online education in multiple languages

  • Offer its tool free of charge to all individuals around the globe

  • Partner with many employers to provide fast track pathways to employment

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What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?

Investment. To truly focus on the interests of job seekers, we need partners and financial backers that buy into our commitment for impact. Traditionally, HR tech is always focused on the interests of companies, which creates the need for partners that are more invested into the missions than into returns. 

Talent. There are a plethora of technical, UX and partnership challenges standing between us and the ultimate value proposition to users. However, we have the right core team and simply need the resources and time necessary to create a transformative career orientation tool. We need to hire the right talent to complement our existing skill sets and execute the product vision.

Scale. To fully leverage the benefits of our AI based skill assessment, we need to hit at least 80 000 users based on current modelling. 

Momentum. Attracting the right partners, investors and clients while building a transformative tool is the classical chicken vs. egg problem. One necessitates the other. 

Expansion to new markets. Our current staff has a wealth of experience in the European and Middle Eastern markets, reflecting our earliest collaborations in support of refugee integration into the European labor force. As we continue to expand into new markets, we will need to adapt our tool to better fit local needs and cultural norms.

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How are you planning to overcome these barriers?

Investment. Skilllab is in deeper conversations with impact investors and foundations that value impact over return. External impact evaluations as well awards/recognition will help to convince these funders to back our mission.

Talent. A strong funding basis will help us to hire the best talent available. We don’t suffer from a lack of interest, but need the right resources to give top talent to quit great careers.

Scale. We are currently exploring business models that allow us to deploy our tool for free with leading civic society organisations. This will enable us to quickly hit the scale to truly benefit from our AI-based foundation.

Momentum. In our early stages, we generate momentum from user success stories, awards and enrollment of great clients and partners. 

Expanding to new markets. We have developed partnerships across the Americas, in the private, public, multilateral and civil society spaces. As is our model elsewhere, we will collaborate with local partners to ensure that our tool is fine-tuned to fit new contexts and to iteratively strengthen our service as we incorporate feedback.

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If you selected “My solution is already being implemented in Latin America/Caribbean,” please provide an overview of your current activities in the region.

Skilllab is in conversations with prospective partners across the region, including in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Panama. Chief amongst these are civil society organizations supporting the integration of Venezuelan refugees into their new communities. Historically, refugee communities have been particularly well-suited to benefit from our technology given their diverse skill sets and lack of local labor market knowledge. As a result, these conversations are now well-advanced, in some cases to the point of discussing logistics.

Conscious of the budgetary constraints faced by civil society organizations, and admittedly excited to establish a foothold in the region, we have expressed willingness to offer our technology at cost to certain partners. While we offer a “budget” option - characterized by limited customization and remote training - we have found a customized/in-person approach to be significantly more effective. Indeed, we expect this would particularly be the case for a first-in-region pilot.

Further motivating our desire to establish a foothold in the region, we have also been approached by multilateral and public institutions to discuss larger-scale collaboration. Such a collaboration would clearly expand our impact and funding prospects, as well as allow us to broaden our scope outside the refugee community. That said, these partners have expressed a preference to observe results from pilots in the region before proceeding at scale.

Therefore, in sum, TPRIZE funding would support 1-2 collaborative pilot projects with local implementation partners in the LAC region, which we hope would subsequently unlock much larger-scale projects and partnerships around the region.

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If you selected “I am planning to expand my solution to Latin America/Caribbean,” please provide an overview of your expansion plans. What is the market opportunity for your business or product in Latin America and the Caribbean?

Skilllab is in conversations with prospective partners across the region, including in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Panama. Chief amongst these are civil society organizations supporting the integration of Venezuelan refugees into their new communities. Historically, refugee communities have been particularly well-suited to benefit from our technology given their diverse skill sets and lack of local labor market knowledge. As a result, these conversations are now well-advanced, in some cases to the point of discussing logistics.

Conscious of the budgetary constraints faced by civil society organizations, and admittedly excited to establish a foothold in the region, we have expressed willingness to offer our technology at cost to certain partners. While we offer a “budget” option - characterized by limited customization and remote training - we have found a customized/in-person approach to be significantly more effective. Indeed, we expect this would particularly be the case for a first-in-region pilot.

Further motivating our desire to establish a foothold in the region, we have also been approached by multilateral and public institutions to discuss larger-scale collaboration. Such a collaboration would clearly expand our impact and funding prospects, as well as allow us to broaden our scope outside the refugee community. That said, these partners have expressed a preference to observe results from pilots in the region before proceeding at scale.

Therefore, in sum, TPRIZE funding would support 1-2 collaborative pilot projects with local implementation partners in the LAC region, which we hope would subsequently unlock much larger-scale projects and partnerships around the region.

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https://skilllab.app/mobile

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About your team

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For-profit

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How many people work on your solution team?

7 cofounders

2 senior engineers

2 interns

4 advisors

3 contractors

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For how many years have you been working on your solution?

2 Years. Skilllab was founded early 2018

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Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?

Our team covers all core competences to build Skilllab’s business and pursue its mission. All team members can build on prior experiences, including experiences in building startup’s, brands and social businesses. Additional to experience, multiple co-founders can relate to the experience of refugees/migrants due to their own background (Yemen, Palestine & Turkey).

  • Product Management

    • Software engineering

    • Design 

    • AI specialisation

    • Dev-ops

    • Human-centered product development

  • Business Development

    • Sales

    • Digital Brand Management

    • Strategy

    • Negotiations

    • Partner networks

  • Customer Success

    • Delivery of digital services

    • On-boarding of clients

    • Impact Evaluation and reporting

    • Project design

  • Internal Operations

    • Legal

    • IT Governance

    • HR

    • Organisational administration

    • Accounting

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With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?

Tent Foundation. Leading Organisation to extract commitments of companies to hire refugees

ILO. Client through UN and partner. Leading experts on Occupation Frameworks and focused on labour market inclusion.

Google.org. Skilllab is a grantee of Google.org through the Google AI Impact Challenge and is receiving mentoring support.

Google. Through the SDG Accelerator, Skilllab is receiving mentoring and support to reach marginalized job seekers that are most in need of support. 

MISTI (MIT). Each summer, Skilllab takes an intern on a scholarship from the MIT computer science department.

Coursera. Skilllab and Coursera mapped the Skill taxonomy into their content catalogue. As a result, Skilllab can recommend coursera courses to job seekers on the basis of a skill gap to their desired occupations. 

Ernst & Young, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters. Pro Bono legal support on governance and reporting.

Green River. Software implementation partner to take care of any customisation work around our core tool.

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Your business model & funding

What is your business model?

Skilllab operates a SaaS model. It sells licences to its clients based on the amount of end-users who use the product and customisation features for the app or admin portal.

We address different customer segments: Public organisations (e.g. governments, municipalities or international organisations), private employment agencies, large private employers and non-profits.

Our pricing is divided into three tiers: a basic version, allowing the use of the software; a whitelabel solution, allowing for individual branding within the app and generated documents; a custom solution, allowing customised distribution and API access. 

To reach much more marginalized job seekers, Skilllab is experimenting with models to roll out the tool for free through non-profits. As over the time the cost of an additional user and organisational onboarding massively drops, we can focus on maximizing our impact and changing as many lives as possible.

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What is your path to financial sustainability?

Through our business model, Skilllab has been so far boot strapped and so far has a very viable direct path to profitability without external investment. However, as we believe in the transformative power of the tool we are building, we are planning to raise significant capital in 2020. 

Currently working on a spending strategy for the next 3 years that covers 5-8 million USD raised through revenue, equity investment, debt and grants. At the end of these 3 years, Skilllab will be a profitable and organically growing social business that developed a matured and transformative tool. This financial position will enable us to focus on our core mission of showing pathways to employment to those that are marginalized.

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Partnership potential

Why are you applying to the TPrize Challenge?

Signalling to the Latin American stakeholders

Find local partners

Find financiers and investors for Latin America

Become member of MIT solve network

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What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?

  • IP Registration
  • Connection with Experts
  • Funding
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With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?

Skilllab is looking for following partners and hopes that the TPrize challenge will help in finding following types of partners:

Online Education providers (ideally with regional focus on Latin America). Skilllab wants to partner and link to the educational content of all high quality online education providers. Winning the T-PRIZE challenge will help us to approach these partners and negotiate reduced rates or free access to content for marginalized job seekers. The work with Coursera forms the blueprint of this approach.

Career and employment services in Latin America. Skilllab is looking for public, private as well as civil society that provide career and employment services. These organisations are the ideal users and distributors of the tool and are the main source of income in the current business model.

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Solution Team

  • Ulrich Scharf Founder & Managing Director, Skilllab
 
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