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Labs and the labour market

We’ve been working on jobs innovation for some time now. Unemployment may not be as bad as many feared in the UK, but across the world underemployment and unemployment remains one of the worst scars on any society – the implicit message to millions of people that they are useless.

You would have thought there would be feverish experiment and innovation to find better ways of cutting it. Sadly there isn’t.

In a small way, Nesta has been trying to fill this gap, addressing each of the stages of the innovation spiral (below).

First, we’ve done analysis of the nature of the modern labour markets and the many different places where new methods could be tried, from education and training, to job matching services and apprenticeships. We’re also experimenting with new ways of mapping jobs – using web scraping tools to understand new job opportunities in fields like coding.

Second, we’ve tried mapping effective projects on a global scale with a ‘living map of jobs innovators'. This is far from complete, but we were surprised to find how few people involved in the field were aware of the best innovations from around the world.

Third, we’ve worked on more systematic opening up to new ideas. A good example of this was the EU Social Innovation Competition, which this year had 1,300 entries with ideas for using technology to reduce unemployment. Thirty shortlisted projects were given intensive support to develop their ideas.

Fourth, we’re involved in some quite radical experiments, for example through the Behavioural Insights Team's work with job centres. Our open data challenge for skills uncovered some brilliant projects to help young people navigate their way through school and into a career - including a great winner, Skills Route.

Fifth, we’re funding scaling projects through the Centre for Social Action Innovation Fund, giving significant grants to scale up projects with strong evidence of impact. I’m also involved in scaling up the studio school model, which was designed to reduce youth unemployment. We’ll have 50 schools open in England by next year, with the first schools opening in Latin America then as well.

Sixth, our impact investment fund is supporting some very promising ideas, again to help them to scale.

We’re quite proud of all of this, but it’s still very inadequate relative to the scale of the problem. And we’re frustrated that we can’t persuade the big players – governments in particular – to complement their familiar tools, such as large scale employment subsidies or payment-by-results contracts, with innovation programmes.

Our experience is that many of the best ideas come from outside the system. But this is still a largely closed system, dominated by big government, big agencies and big businesses. And it’s still a system that is failing in significant ways.

Author

Geoff Mulgan

Geoff Mulgan

Geoff Mulgan

Chief Executive Officer

Geoff Mulgan has been Chief Executive of Nesta since 2011. Nesta is the UK's innovation foundation and runs a wide range of activities in investment, practical innovation and research.

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