Beyond the NEET label – how digital tech has helped me to gain valuable work experience
The recession first hit while I was at university. I assumed that by the time I graduated in 2012 the economy would have recovered. So much for my optimism. I was wrong. In my final year of university, whilst job hunting, I won a place on a pilot online coaching programme run by youth aspirations charity Spark+Mettle. It was during this time that I learnt about the importance of soft skills and how these can help people succeed in work and in life.
The coaching programme was great but it only worked with a handful of young people at a time. Spark+Mettle’s founder, Eugenie Teasley, wanted to find ways to share the programme with more young people. So when the Design Council and social investor Nominet Trust launched the Working Well Design Challenge, a programme which supports selected teams to design new digital products and services to help young people develop their skills and get into work, the timing couldn’t have been better. I immediately became part of the core team working on applying for funding. This was our chance to turn the ideas into reality.
Generally speaking, my wide-ranging work experience and volunteering meant I was finding it very hard to articulate my story through a CV. Consequently, I created a Pinterest board to document my experience in a visual, digital and non-chronological way. This was my light bulb moment. I realised we could use digital technology to support young unemployed people to gain the skills necessary to find employment. However, helping young people become employable wasn’t enough for us, we wanted to make them more discoverable too.
Hence, we developed Discoverables, a website that helps young people to identify their strengths and then undertake tasks which help them to demonstrate those strengths to potential employers. Discoverables takes a gamified approach that enables young people to prove and improve the strengths and skills that can significantly increase well-being and success in work and in life. For example, rather than claiming that you are self-motivated on your CV, you have to prove this by providing evidence through the challenges on the site. The more you do, the more you build your Discoverables profile, and the higher you go up in the rankings, becoming more discoverable to a pool of forward-thinking employers.
Alongside Eugenie, a designer and another young person, I’ve been working on Discoverables part time ever since we won the pitch for the Working Well Design Challenge in July 2012. I’ve had brainstorming workshops with CEOs, I’ve developed a social media and partnerships campaign, and I’ve been even getting to grips with how to write a business plan. I’ve been thrown into a whole new world of digital tech start ups and social enterprises and the huge possibilities of harnessing digital technology for social good. I’ve loved the lot.
I worked on Discoverables while applying to full time jobs. In the autumn, I managed to nab a social media internship for a small company. Although this led to a full time job, unfortunately, internal restructuring at the firm mean that this wasn’t for long. That same week, I also lost my uncle. Suddenly my personal and professional lives were in turmoil. I’d been banging on about soft skills but it was only at this time that I realised the importance of skills such as resilience!
I went into this challenge as a young person lending her brain but came out on the other side as one of the co-founders and directors. The irony is that the challenge has come to an end and although I’m running with the project voluntarily, I am now technically a NEET – a word I absolutely despise.
I’m not in education nor employment nor training, but I am doing something, something I feel passionate about. Discoverables is now in the beta stage, and every day I’m enjoying seeing amazing young people take challenges and build their profile to become more discoverable. Someone on Twitter the other day referred to Discoverables as “LinkedIn’s cooler, younger brother.” That’s fantastic!
My aspiration? To work on Discoverables full time so I can help other young people into the world of work using digital technology. The future is digital. Right now too many young people are still unemployed. We need to create awesome tech solutions to support young people in fulfilling their potential. And I want to be right in the thick of it from here on out.
Arfah Farooq is co-founder of Discoverables and can be found @Arf_22
For more information visit www.discoverabl.es
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