Career Planet: Connecting youth to opportunity using mobile technology
Youth unemployment has become one of the most pressing socio-economic problems in South Africa today. Given that unemployment is “associated with social problems such as poverty, crime, violence, a loss of morale, social degradation and political disengagement (Kingdon & Knight, 2000; Levinsohn, 2008), connecting youth with opportunities for job creation and enhanced employability/self-employability not only makes economic sense; it is vital for the social stability of the country.
We know that higher levels of employment are vital for economic, social, political and individual development. However, “many of the skills needed to improve a worker’s employability – punctuality, discipline, the ability to work with others, and so on – are most easily acquired on the job. This is especially important in South Africa. Millions of people are the products of South Africa’s dysfunctional education system and have had few opportunities to acquire skills.”
In fact, according to the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), there are 3 million youth aged 15-24 who are not working and not studying – with current interventions tending only to reach small numbers. Add to this the fact that young work-seekers lack job search capabilities, networks relevant to the labour market, as well as the resources and mobility to look for a job. Our challenge is therefore to create platforms that bypass traditional barriers of cost and accessibility to opportunity so as to equip youth with the skills/information they need to seek out opportunities or create their own in the context of limited opportunity.
Mobile technology provides an effective and cost-effective platform through which to connect youth with a wide range of opportunities. Worldwide, mobile phone subscriptions among young people now outstrip PC ownership by as much as 123 percent. In South Africa, mobile penetration has grown to over 100%, highlighting the extensive use of multiple SIMs by mobile users in such countries.
To fully harness the power of mobile, however, we need to carefully consider barriers to opportunity access. For example, “a large percentage of the South African youth market access the web from a mobile source, but are hindered by obstacles such as the high cost of data, or a phone which is not powerful enough to handle the mobile content which the advertising agencies are pushing out.”
Hyper-localised and complete content is also lacking. “Africa has only one web domain for every 10,000 people, versus a global average of 94 domains for every 10,000 people. In other words, information that is important and valuable to Africans is not yet available online.” And much of that does exist is often incomplete, out-of-date or out of reach financially for youth users, who do not always have the means or digital literacy skills to sift through multiple sites, which may in turn result in frustration, or worse, complete abandonment of the opportunity-seeking process.
Our Strategy to get young people connected
To complement and extend Career Planet’s existing career development services to a larger audience in a more accessible and targeted manner, we are utilising mobile technology to:
Provide young people with cost-effective ways to locate relevant, detailed and up-to-date employment, educational and self-development opportunities - in their areas.
Allow employers and service providers to effectively promote their opportunities and other useful information, such as Open Days or new courses, to young people through opportunity-matching technology and features such as an events calendar, splash screens, etc.
Provide a CV creation tool to assist youth users to market themselves to prospective employers, recruiters or admission staff.
Offer mobile career counselling for individual study- and career-related concerns.
Provide career profile information and interactive quizzes designed by career counsellors and psychologists so users can make informed choices about career paths/qualifications to pursue.
Provide self-employment resources, contacts and a searchable directory for start-ups, entrepreneurs and SMMEs to list their businesses and own job creation opportunities.
To reach scale and be accessible to as many users as possible. Users will be given the choice to access these services via USSD (very basic access to job opportunities), a mobi-site (with full functionality on both smart- and feature phones), and online via personal, home or school computers (through potential partnerships with libraries and initiatives such as Streetwise computer terminals).
Content with a difference:
Delivery mechanisms (technology) can mean nothing without content. In fact, even the most efficient technology delivery methods can fall flat without the same amount of effort being put into the content to be delivered by that technology. To inform our content generation methodologies we conducted formative research, collecting information from both Opportunity Providers (OP’s) and Opportunity Seekers (OS’s). Our research findings informed the development of a number of key strategies:
We have adopted a multi-pronged approach to sourcing content, not just in terms of general training and job openings, but also career and training-related resources such as basic skills development tips, articles and advice in the context of an ongoing lack of formalised (and relevant) career guidance and support. We know that at the tertiary level, a major contributor to high rates of failure and drop-out has been the lack of information and guidance about enrolment and course requirements . We are therefore working with career development experts to develop and share content on such themes as CV skills, artisan career options, further study and training options without a Matric, etc. that are relevant to local users with varying levels/no qualifications.
Learners forming part of our research group revealed great despondency at looking for work/opportunities. We are therefore working to devise motivational messages to encourage users not to become discouraged in their search for matching prospects. Together with ongoing tips and articles, these will ensure users can work on personal development and resilience-building skills in the absence of immediate opportunity-matches. Based on the success of motivational messages used by Cell-life to encourage HIV-testing through SMS, this presents an opportunity to explore if the same approach can encourage action (to apply for jobs, start a business, learn a skill) in a culture of immediate gratification among youth e.g. ‘did you follow-up on your job application today? Call the HR department to ensure your application was received’.
We are also taking several measures to ensure that the content provided is complete, well described and easily accessible for OS’s. We are not only doing this to prevent discouragement with dead-end opportunities, but also to ensure that OS’s can get to the relevant information as quickly as possible, bringing the cost down and making each search worth the money that they are spending on it. One such measure is to ensure that OP’s also include information on hidden costs or costs the user simply has not anticipated on paying e.g. registration fees or accommodation exclusions on bursaries that often force young people to abandon their studies because, even with funding”.
Lastly, our career counselling and referral service (ASK US) allows young people to submit individual questions with a response from trained experts in the absence of other support structures or existing answers on the platform. This invaluable mobile tool is able reach those who would otherwise have no access to a career guidance counsellor, parents or a PC to email or research answers to their individual questions, such as how to write a Matric without an ID book.
Our progress so far
As was mentioned in the previous section, we conducted research with potential users – particularly those in more disadvantaged areas where ‘mobile’ users of internet predominate, to inform the development of a user-friendly platform for both opportunity seekers and providers. This participatory approach was implemented to ensure the development of a technology that speaks to the real-world concerns, mobile behaviours and current attitudes towards mobile applications among our two core target audiences.
Development of technology
Firstly, a technical specification document was developed to direct the development of the mobile technology supporting our service. Currently development is taking place and we will be launching the beta version of the USSD and mobi sites for testing among in February 2012, to pinpoint the need for features or functionality not anticipated or recommended in the formative research.
Recruitment of Opportunity Providers
Recruitment of OPs will be an important and ongoing activity of Career Planet. OP’s will be invited to post their job, graduate placement, internship, bursary, job shadow and learnership opportunities. So far more than 200 companies have been contacted to secure relevant contacts within these organisations; over 100 bursary providers have been contacted to verify their contact details, application process, bursary inclusion and exclusions, opening and closing dates, etc.; and databases of all public and private higher education institutions and municipalities – particularly their youth development units – is in the process of completion. All potential OP’s will receive an introductory pack outlining the benefits of using Career Planet’s mobile platform, inviting and assisting them to use the platform.
To further bolster opportunities to ensure supply meets demand, a call to action will be launched to all recruitment agents to motivate their clients to share opportunities/openings on the platform for extended reach and added value. To generate awareness of the brand each month, we will feature a double-page spread in loveLife’s youth lifestyle magazine.
Our initial advice to others who would like to reach youth using mobile technology
Plan ahead but build for the present
While mobile penetration is pervasive in South Africa, this does not mean all users experience mobile equally. The phenomenal growth of smartphones may make it tempting to develop mobile applications solely for these phones, but the mass market feature phone still occupies 73% of the global market share. We therefore need to ensure our mobile platforms/interventions are forward-looking without sacrificing their functionality in the present on lower-end phones. This has important implications for the user interface design of a mobile platform for youth still using these devices – and who are accustomed to using applications on a daily basis that have become user-friendly or even intuitive for them (e.g. MXit). Usability testing is key, especially in the absence of concrete feature and functionality input at the initial stages of research and development for the intended end user.
Consider mobile attitude and behaviours, not just mobile technologies
Users appropriate features and functionality to fit in with their lifestyles, already formed mobile habits, and daily needs, thus implementers must take heed of these in the development of their platforms. In the case of Career Planet we need to deliver complete and accurate details about available opportunities, balanced with the very real space constraints of mobile and time constraints of the user. Studies in Central Asia have found that in developing contexts citizens rely heavily on their social networks of inter-personal communication for information.” Career Planet and similar implementers can therefore take advantage of the networking functionality which their users are accustomed to, to share information and to make their platforms more user-friendly.
Given that none of the smaller scale OPs in our formative research sample had used mobile before to promote opportunities– and a large number saw cellphones to be a youth artefact – this illustrates the need to provide supporting mechanisms that do not assume shared levels of digital literacy and use.
Mobile as an enabling technology – not a panacea
While mobile is ideally placed to foster interventions that are targeted and scalable; it does not preclude the need for interventions on the ground and development of supporting platforms/interventions. In fact, the reach and culture of mobile communication has established a sense of immediacy and need for instant feedback, placing greater pressure on implementers to provide quick, reliable content. With an effective delivery mechanism via mobile, we still need to develop real and relatable content to engage youth within the constraints of limited character counts and screen sizes on their phones, demanding flexibility and creativity on the part of the implementer.
We also need to be cautious of not decontextualising these technologies. For example, when we presented the Career Planet concept to resource-constrained, rural-based or small scale opportunity providers (such as NGOs and churches), we were surprised at their lack of understanding of the term ‘mobi site’ and reminded that while penetration is high, there is not a universal or ‘shared vocabulary’, which requires innovative ways of getting audiences to make the technologies their own.
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According to Cell-Life’s research on getting people to go test for HIV via text messaging, they found 10 motivational-style SMSs got a statistically significant amount of people to test compared to the control informational messaging.
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