Workfinder by Founders4Schools

www.nesta.org.uk/case-study/workfinder-founders4schools/
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In this interview, founder and managing director Sherry Coutu CBE shares how being part of the Inclusive Economy Partnership (IEP) has helped to increase Workfinder’s influence and impact.

Sherry Coutu CBE, Workfinder and Founders4Schools - Inclusive Economy Partnership

Sherry Coutu CBE, founder of Workfinder and Founders4Schools

Tell us about your Inclusive Economy Partnership project. What are you doing and what do you want to change?

Founders4Schools’ services help young people learn about a variety of work environments for themselves, so they are better prepared for work when they are finished with full-time formal education.

Our ground-breaking Workfinder platform enables students to find, shortlist, and apply to great, growing companies offering placements in their local area.

It was because of Workfinder that we applied to be part of the Inclusive Economy Programme. We were delighted to be chosen and quickly began connecting with influential partners to talk about meaningful partnerships that could help us achieve our mission.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the transition to work for young people in our society today?

We are clear about the problem in society today: the UK has a skills shortage that is holding back productivity. That problem is fixable, and it is incumbent on us to fix it. Otherwise we will face rapid economic decline as companies that can, will, move to ecosystems where they are more likely to succeed.

Rather than try to change the whole education system, we decided to create a service that relies on the self-interest of the very businesses that are suffering from the skills shortage. We created a place where the people speaking in schools could offer to host work placements, internships, or summer jobs. That way they could enable further learning while opening up a talent pipeline that could help their own growth. Employers are more likely to hire someone who already has experience.

Workfinder levels the playing field. It moves away from the dominance of parental networks and enables us to focus on the young people in the most disadvantaged areas, who have the most to gain.

Workfinder levels the playing field. It moves away from the dominance of parental networks and enables us to focus on the young people in the most disadvantaged areas, who have the most to gain.

Sherry Coutu CBE, founder of Workfinder and Founders4Schools

Tell us a bit about one of the partnerships you formed during the IEP. Who are you working with and what does each party bring to the table?

We formed a number of very powerful partnerships as a direct result of the IEP programme, thanks to Nesta, which have enabled us to raise the bar on the delivery of meaningful work experience.

For example, we integrated Barclays LifeSkills into the Workfinder journey to provide useful tips in the lead up to work experience placements.

Through CIPD, we invited 6,000 HR professionals in Scotland onto the platform – enabling them to integrate into a network of hyper-local collaborations, potentially impacting up to 100,000 young people.

With financial giant Grant Thornton, we are leading a community pilot in Leeds with Workfinder, which aims to create a vibrant economy to open up hundreds of work experience opportunities over the next two years.

Perhaps our most exciting partnership, in terms of impact on fragile lives, is with Wayra. Wayra is Telefonica’s accelerator for digital startups, so O2, Wayra and Workfinder are working together to help those furthest from the job market transition into the world of work.

Specifically, the partnership tackles the biggest areas of concern:

  • access to work experience opportunities.
  • equal access to opportunity regardless of background.
  • the improvement of skills for work-preparedness.

We do this through the Workfinder platform and access to startups and corporations.

Partnering with a significant number of companies and schools and academies in London, we are introducing young people to entrepreneur insight sessions, via O2’s Go Think Big; promoting work experience opportunities to young people via the Wayra network using Workfinder, and celebrating the exceptional young people, and their teachers, who get involved.

The partnership, which will build other collaborations as we progress, is designed to help young people experiencing barriers to accessing work to overcome their obstacles – for example, the 55.9% of young black British men and the 62% of young people aged 16-24 with disabilities who are unemployed.

We want every young person in the UK to have 100 hours of work experience that they rate as meaningful, because we know it makes a difference to their lives and grows the talent pool that is the lifeblood of startups and scaleups.

Sherry Coutu CBE, founder of Workfinder and Founders4Schools

What impact has the IEP made on your project and goals?

It has made a huge impact, by providing a focus on making collaborations work with serious partners. The open culture of IEP creates honest conversations and that can only be good news for the young people we want to help.

What have you learned about how to build a successful partnership?

  • Make contact.
  • Explore areas of mutual interest.
  • Work together to tackle problems.
  • And scale. Repeat.

Where do you plan to take Workfinder and Founders4Schools from here?

Founders4Schools is heading towards one million student-employer encounters, across all our services. But we want every young person in the UK to have 100 hours of work experience that they rate as meaningful, because we know it makes a difference to their lives and grows the talent pool that is the lifeblood of startups and scaleups.

When educators reach out in their community, the business community responds. You just need to make it easy for everyone to connect. With Wayra, we are providing an opportunity for scaleups at the forefront of innovation, employability and entrepreneurship to contribute their expertise and launch a coordinated and holistic attack on youth unemployment and social inequalities.

Partnerships like this will enable us to scale Workfinder, with the ambition to get every young person in the UK the skills and experience they need to navigate the future of work. We are battling against time to ensure that we don’t waste a single day of opportunity for the young people we serve, which is what makes programmes like the IEP so critical.

We won’t rest until we get there!

Find out more about Workfinder.

The Inclusive Economy Partnership (IEP) is a pioneering initiative changing the way that government, business and civil society work together to address some of society's toughest challenges. Between August 2017 and September 2018, Nesta worked with the Cabinet Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to run the Inclusive Economy Partnership Accelerator, supporting 18 IEP grant winners across three challenge areas (financial inclusion, mental health in the workplace, and the transition to work for young people) to scale their solutions through meaningful partnership with business, civil society and government.