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EPALE - Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe


Mapping Pathways to Employment; an interview with Ulrich Scharf

Language: EN
Document available also in: FI



We have all been there, writing a job application, updating our resume, pondering sentence structure and idioms, and how to put our skills and knowledge into words. Imagine doing this in a foreign language in a foreign country. Now imagine doing it if you’d never done it before.

Like all success stories, Skilllab started with a need – the need to successfully find work for job seekers with a refugee status. In the process of finding the right people with the right skills for the right jobs, the first step is to identify and document their professional skills. Sound tough? The Managing Director and Co-founder of Skilllab, Ulrich Scharf, explains how the company made this easier with Skilllab’s skills assessment app.

Many employers today emphasise the importance of non-formal and informal learning, sometimes even over formal education. In contrast, many job seekers naturally have skills. The skills just require validation to connect the job seeker with the needs of a somewhat complex labour market. And this has not proven to be easy.

“You cannot underestimate how challenging it can be for people from vastly different cultural backgrounds to translate their professional abilities into completely different labour market conditions in Europe”, Scharf explains.

“These challenges are still greater when people have to do it in a language that is foreign to them, and in a country where their formal qualifications have not been recognised.”

Skilllab’s app makes people’s skills and competences visible

Skilllab is a social venture developing technology-based solutions to help municipal employment services to integrate refugees and migrants into local labour markets. Using modern technology, AI, neural networks and other statistical methods, Skilllab maps out individuals’ past experiences. 

One innovative aspect of the app is its ability to capture informal and less obvious skills. While a job seeker’s, let us say, eating habits may seem entirely irrelevant to an employer, his or her ability to cook can stand for a valuable and an employable set of skills. 

“Other examples of gaining valuable skills as an informal experience can include things such as coaching a sports team, performing community service or raising a family”, elaborates Scharf.

For this purpose, Skilllab has developed a mobile skills assessment application. The app empowers individuals to intuitively express their skills and experiences. 

“The vision behind the tool is that employment services can use it in their first contact with newly arrived refugees, and build them a great profile on which personal career planning services can be based.”

The job seeker gets invited to download the app so that he or she can perform skills assessment at home, in any of the 27 languages supported by the app. First, the app asks the user to build a timeline on his or her life, experience by experience, including every job, education experience or other learning period one has ever had. Next, the user is guided through an interview of sorts to identify the skills he or she has gained through each experience. The interview is based on the European Skills, Competencies and Qualifications framework including over 13,000 unique skills. 

Based on the skills assessment, the user’s skill set is then mapped with nearly 3,000 EU recognised occupations. All occupations are ranked by the degree to which one’s skill set matches the requirements of that occupation. Further on, the app shows users what learning opportunities there are, so that a person may round out one’s skills to better meet the requirements of specific occupations. This way, job seekers can explore career pathways to pursue.

How are the skills and competences documented?

Results for the skills assessment are available for job seekers and career advisors in multiple formats.

Firstly, the job seeker can directly explore his or her Skill Profile with the mobile app. Additionally, both job seekers and their career advisors can produce professionally designed resumes that list all past experiences and skills acquired. The resumes are available as a PDF document in any of the 27 supported languages. The app’s ability to automatically produce high quality professional resumes has an empowering effect on the individual. That is, a person sees how one’s skills become recognised and will get a sense of how his or her skill set fits into the European labour market. 

Furthermore, a web-based Administration Portal allows career advisors to administer and monitor the Skill Profiles. Lastly, an API connection allows the skills assessment tool to get integrated into external systems.

The primary users of Skilllab are refugees and migrants, but in principle any job seeker

“Our partners are usually municipalities, cities and public employment services. We have completed pilots in different cities in the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, The UK and also in Finland, in the cities of Helsinki and Tampere”, Scharf explains.

Skilllab has raised a lot of interest both in and outside of Europe. In fact, the company was one of 20 organisations who won the Google AI Impact Challenge, a competition for non-profits, social enterprises, and research institutions using AI to help address societal challenges.

So is Skilllab going to solve the challenge of effectively integrating refugees into new labour markets?

“We don’t think that an app in and of itself can solve anybody’s problems. It needs to be combined with good career counselling services. The human element is absolutely vital and irreplaceable when it comes to validation and guidance.“

After skills identification and documentation, job seekers with a refugee status will still need guidance to find the right job, course or a school to proceed in. Currently, helping refugees find jobs is a key priority for all European cities, and Skilllab’s app is a great tool that can support organisations working on this challenge. 


Text: Linda Juntunen

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