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.

Finding Opportunities in Uncertainty

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, many workers face the threat of unemployment. In addition, trends such as automation are changing the labour market, displacing others from their roles and making it more difficult to find good work.

Based on ethnographic research that followed 18 working adults from Newport, south-east Wales, this report describes the types of support and information that such workers are likely to need to find opportunities in an uncertain labour market.

By understanding the strategies used by people to navigate the job market throughout their careers (a process we term ‘career navigation’) and the challenges they face, our aim is to inform the development of more intelligent, data-driven services and policies that reduce unemployment and a mismatch of skills.

The research demonstrates that:

  • Workers struggle to find the information they need to efficiently explore opportunities in the labour market and make decisions about their careers.
  • The limited career adaptability resources of workers, particularly a lack of career confidence, often prevent them from being more strategic in their career navigation.
  • Workers experience career navigation as costly, risky and demoralising.

These challenges impede the ability of workers to foresee risks to their jobs, and find viable and desirable alternative roles. In an increasingly uncertain labour market, these barriers to effective career navigation will contribute to increased skills mismatch and its resulting negative impacts on productivity and wages.

Lessons learnt

The report presents four key insights to inform the development of services and policies that can help workers more effectively adapt to a changing labour market.

  1. Multidimensional data about jobs and occupations can help workers make career decisions more efficiently: Government, education providers, employers and job search platforms could improve career navigation by working together to generate, open up and share relevant data about jobs and skills.
  2. Information, advice and guidance can be targeted by identifying a worker’s approach to career navigation: We identified three approaches to career navigation – ‘opportunistic’, ‘strategic’ and ‘stuck’ – which each require different types of support. To help service providers and policymakers to understand these needs, the report provides personas which represent workers who adopt each approach.
  3. Workers are more able to navigate an uncertain labour market if they are supported to develop the full range of career adaptability resources: Alongside building their confidence, curiosity, commitment and sense of control, it is also important to prompt career navigation by raising workers’ concerns about the future of their occupation.
  4. Services for career navigation will be more successful if they simulate the support offered by family and friends: Workers rely on members of their social circle as sources of trustworthy, tailored and discreet careers support and advice. Providers of formal tools and guidance should aim to simulate these qualities.


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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Michaela Rhode

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Rowan Douglas

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Phoebe Ward

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Rhian Scott

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