Paving the way for better career journeys

In ‘Precarious to prepared’, Nesta highlighted the uncertain futures faced by the millions of people ‘currently employed in occupations that are likely to change radically or disappear’ as a result of technological adoption. As a tide of automation sweeps across industries, many workers will find that they need to set out on a journey to find a job that makes use of their skills and experience. Without a clear direction, this journey is likely to be tough, as workers encounter dead ends and may be drawn into low-paid, precarious work.

The Mapping Career Causeways project will provide direction for these workers and the people who support them in the UK, Italy, France and Germany. We are using novel methods of data analysis to spot good jobs that have similar skill requirements to those that might be lost, creating a road map of connected occupations. Our hope is that a person at risk of losing their job could consult a service built on this map to identify new occupations that they’re already able to do. In this way, the chance that their skills will be wasted would be reduced, and they would be less likely to take a pay cut.

We began this work well before the outbreak of the Covid-19, but the current crisis demonstrates a need for continued research of this kind. A map of similar occupations could, in the future, help displaced workers to rapidly find a job that makes use of their indispensable skills (for example, football stewards supporting supermarket staff with crowd control) and enable governments to support the redeployment of workers into key roles.

Enriching data with local knowledge

Local knowledge is vital to identify realistic job transitions from among theoretically possible moves. As the researchers from Canada’s Brookfield Institute have written about their model for connecting displaced workers with employers, ‘The perspectives of workers, trainers, and employers are also needed to determine whether a job transition is likely to work in practice.’ To ensure that these perspectives are brought into the Mapping Career Causeways project, Nesta is working with organisations from across Europe to question, critique and contribute to our work. Through the combination of data and local insights, we will facilitate the development of collective intelligence that enables stakeholders to make more informed and inclusive decisions.

Our first step was a workshop held at Nesta’s London office in late February. This brought together more than 20 expert participants from the UK, Italy, France and Germany, representing public and private employment services, training providers, local and national government, and worker associations. Through a series of activities and discussions, we identified local challenges that our research could prioritise, further stakeholders to engage, and considerations to take into account when developing our outputs.

What did we discover?

1. Labour markets are local; solutions should be too

While conceptual, macro and far-sighted insights such as those in Nesta’s ‘The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030’ are useful for researchers and policymakers, they are often difficult to translate into solutions for people at risk of job displacement. The outputs of Mapping Career Causeways should communicate insights that are relevant to workers and intermediaries who need to make concrete decisions within a set timeframe.

In services built on our work, proposed job transitions should be tailored to the local job market, reflecting not just the similarity of skills but also the availability of nearby opportunities in appropriate destination occupations. Suggestions would ideally convey a range of relevant information (such as working hours, commuting costs, detailed skill requirements and job security) to allow workers to choose between options. For example, a parent may want a job that matches their skills, but will only be able to work during hours when they do not have childcare responsibilities. Without information about working hours, advice about skills is irrelevant.

2. Information is just the first step to enabling effective job transitions

The workshop participants identified many stakeholders who could make use of a map of feasible ‘career causeways’. Careers advisors could use it to make their clients aware of unexpected opportunities. Businesses might find locations where workers already have the skills they need. Policymakers could target interventions for regional growth more effectively. Importantly, the participants felt that it could help to join up the efforts of these different stakeholders by giving them a shared understanding of labour market transitions.

Nonetheless, they were quick to point out the challenges that will arise if a map of career causeways is misunderstood or unevenly adopted. Unless it is integrated into existing practices that shape both the supply of and demand for skills, a map of feasible transitions between jobs may contribute to further skill mismatches. In practical terms, workers might try to move into occupations where their skills are not recognised by employers.

To address this, it is important that Nesta and partners promote the uptake of the map throughout local systems for jobs and skills. For example, we may need to support careers advisors to understand and communicate the map, and help employers to recognise the validity of skills held by people making unconventional job transitions.

3. It's important to build a shared understanding through a common language

Terminology around jobs is often complicated and alienating. To ensure that outputs of the Mapping Career Causeways project help different stakeholders to understand the labour market in the same way, they should avoid jargon, and be written in the type of language that potential users speak when talking about jobs. Furthermore, our initial work should be targeted at stakeholders who have the capacity to amplify and build on the insights we uncover, such as careers advisors, recruiters and human resource professionals.

In addition to workshop collaboration, we were fortunate to hear from Hanka Boldemann of J.P. Morgan (the organisation which supports Mapping Career Causeways as part of their global New Skills at Work initiative), Ian Clifford of ALLDigital about Digital SkillShift, Tom Hadley of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation about the Good Recruitment Collective, and Eric Thode, Director of the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Program Rethinking Work.

Next steps

Over the coming months, we will continue engaging stakeholders from the UK, Italy, France and Germany in order to ensure that our work can help to address local challenges. As part of this work, we will be hosting a series of webinars so that potential users of insights generated by Mapping Career Causeways (employers, policymakers, employment services, education providers, worker associations and others) can learn about the project and ask questions that are relevant to them. In light of the continuing outbreak of Covid-19, it may be that new and important use-cases for this work are revealed.

If you would like to arrange a webinar for you and your network, please email [email protected].


Jack Orlik

Jack Orlik

Jack Orlik

Programme Manager - Open Jobs, Data Analytics Practice

Jack was a Programme Manager for Open Jobs.

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Karlis Kanders

Karlis Kanders

Karlis Kanders

Senior Data Foresight Lead, Discovery Hub

Karlis is a Senior Data Foresight Lead working in Nesta’s Discovery team.

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