About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Equipping young people to thrive in a changing world of work

The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report (and Nesta’s own work on the Future of Skills) makes it clear that the world of work is undergoing unprecedented changes, driven largely by the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ (rapid advances in AI, mobility and advanced manufacturing). The concept of a job for life has evaporated, leading individuals to need to take responsibility themselves for their own career management. Some 30% of jobs in the UK are at risk of some degree of automation, meaning that much of the workforce will need to adapt and learn new skills.

Meanwhile, research from Gallup found that only 11% of people who work in the UK are what we call ‘workplace stars’ – intellectually and emotionally engaged because they love what they do – leaving 89% acting as sleepwalkers (present in name only) or worse still saboteurs who actively cause trouble in the workplace.

Part of the problem is that we’re not equipping our young people with the tools they need to find purposeful or resilient careers, and there’s a lag between the advice they often receive from parents and schools, and what’s needed to thrive in the world of work today.

Research suggests 70% of teens turn to their parents for help with their career direction, yet 56% of parents feel ill-equipped to help – which is hardly surprising given that most people are unhappy at work themselves. The world of work continues to change through technological development. Often, parents are giving well-intentioned but ultimately misinformed advice based on experiences from often decades before, or shaped by a lack of understanding of today’s career options.

Our approach

Since we started Career Alchemy in 2015, our overall objective has been to develop a research proven, easy-to-use career and life coaching programme that enables individuals of all ages to navigate their way through a rapidly changing world of work, by working on solving some of the world’s greatest challenges.

As well as helping to create more future-proof careers, we’re aiming to give people the tools to find work that is more meaningful and fulfilling – life-giving and enriching, rather than soul-destroying. If we can help young people make better choices, they are less likely to become a sleepwalker or saboteur in the workplace, suffer from work-related stress, or worse still, become lost, unemployed or underemployed. More importantly, and the elephant in the room of modern day society, is that their potential won’t be lost.

Instead of asking: “What sector do you want to work in?”, we’re asking: “What problem do you want to help solve?”

Carolyn Parry, founder of Career Alchemy

Recognising that ultimately everyone wants to make a difference and belong to something bigger than themselves, our INSPiRED career and life coaching framework uses the UN Strategic Development Goals (SDGs) as a problem-based lens (rather than sector or role-based view) onto the world of work.

Instead of asking: “What sector do you want to work in?”, we’re asking: “What problem do you want to help solve?”

Having identified their unique personalities, talents, strengths, skills and significant experiences, individuals are able to use this insight to identify how and where they want to contribute, developing an intrinsically motivating, clear, and purpose-driven career direction as a result.

This systematic approach and process provides the connection and sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves that we all crave. It also creates a sense of stability and means of sustainability, over the longer term, regardless of the disruption to the workplace globally of industry 4.0, due to the complexity and therefore longevity that the world’s greatest problems provide.

Prevention and cure

Initially, much of our initial work was done in a “cure” context – working with graduates or adults who were lost or on the wrong path to set a better direction. Given that parents themselves lack a fundamental confidence in their own ability to provide support, we wanted to see what would happen if we were able to use the programme to facilitate effective intergenerational conversations that could prevent teenagers from making poor career decisions in the first place.

In 2017, we created a video version called INSPiRED Teenager. The programme aims to help parents enable their teens to make better choices, by identifying their strengths/potential and combining this with a clear sense of purpose to provide the required intrinsic motivation to thrive.

The framework contains eight segments:

  • Identity
  • Needs and Wants
  • Strengths, Talents and Skills
  • Passion and Interests
  • Impact and Contribution
  • Relationships
  • Environment
  • Direction and Goals

It asks questions such as: “What do you want to be known for? What are my strengths, talents and skills, and where are they best served and most wanted?”

Nobody talks to young people this way. They talk about: “What are you going to do for your A-Levels/GCSEs? What subject do you want to study at university?” Or, they stress that you need to write a strong CV and boost your employability. None of this is language that encourages young people – or people of any age – to get excited, because they don’t see how they can contribute and where they fit.

We’re aiming to help people find the thing that’s going to attract them intrinsically to do it, the thing that gets you out of bed on a Monday morning.

Testing the framework

Being selected to take part in the Inclusive Economy Partnership (IEP) gave us the chance to test how effective our programme could be in preventing young people from developing a NEET (not in education, employment or training) profile, by measuring changes in career confidence and clarity of direction among cohorts living in economic cold spots.

We also wanted to identify the most effective means of delivering the programme. To do this, we commissioned the specialist team at the International Centre for Education and Guidance Studies (iCeGS), part of the University of Derby, to run a comparative research study to evaluate the effectiveness of the INSPiRED Teenager programme delivered in two variants: online for parents/carers to self-serve, with support from a live forum; and delivered live across two three-hour workshops.

We’re aiming to help people find the thing that’s going to attract them intrinsically to do it, the thing that gets you out of bed on a Monday morning.

Carolyn Parry, founder of Career Alchemy

We were fortunate to attract support from Delivery Champion, Unilever, for the live part of our full programme delivery test, following a meeting with Sebastian Munden, General Manager for Unilever UK & Ireland. As a result, Unilever asked their subcontractor, All about STEM, to work with us to recruit 45 parent or carer and teenager duos to attend the two-part workshop series, which Unilever hosted at their brand-new Advanced Manufacturing Centre, located in Liverpool, an economic cold spot.

Research findings

The face-to-face programme was by far the most effective of the two delivery formats; it had a significant completion rate and targeted more participants with lower household incomes from economic cold spots. This format provided a unique opportunity for parents/carers and their teenagers to work collaboratively, with expert support from careers specialists and Unilever employers, to identify their career purpose and potential.

The results from the live workshops showed real promise. We asked participants to complete a questionnaire at the beginning and end of the process. When it came to teenager clarity of direction, this measure increased by 113% as a result of the programme, while career confidence went up 132%.

With the parental outcomes, we asked: “How clear are you about being able to help your teen create inspiring career goals?” Again, this measure went up significantly, from 62% to 92%.

Though initial registered interest in the self-serve online programme was high, no participants completed all eight programme modules. This reflects the recognised difficulties in sustaining participant engagement with online courses.

To reduce attrition in the online programme, our research report recommends considering offering instructor-centred feedback at key milestones in the programme to create a social presence in the online environment.

Lots of parents didn’t realise how much the world of work is changing. They didn’t have an understanding about industry 4.0, and weren’t aware of the level of automation that’s already happening.

Carolyn Parry, founder of Career Alchemy

In terms of qualitative feedback, what was interesting was that lots of parents didn’t realise how much the world of work is changing. They didn’t have an understanding about industry 4.0, and weren’t aware of the level of automation that’s already happening. Roles themselves are changing, and popular advice of old - for example, that you’ll be ‘safe’ if you enter a profession such as law or accountancy, may not hold true in the future, with AI already playing an increasingly significant part in many of these areas.

Inevitably careers will shift because we work in a shifting economy, but if we can look at problems that we can solve instead of roles and sectors to choose from, this can help to ensure career longevity as can equipping people with tools and resources that they can use to identify a career direction or refocus when they go off track at any stage of their working lives.

One thing we all know is that there’s lots of change coming, and we need a system that’s easy for people to understand who they are, what direction they want to go in, and the contribution they want to make - because that’s what gets people out of bed in the morning with a spring in their step and makes their working lives feel worthwhile.


Carolyn Parry

Carolyn Parry is founder director and lead coach of Career Alchemy, which helps students, graduates and professionals create purposeful careers through its INSPiRED framework.