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Whether you have a university degree, or spent years caring for your sick mother; everyone has valuable skills”, says Ulrich Scharf, founder of SkillLab. “But when newcomers want to get started in the Netherlands, they often can’t find suitable work, regardless of their skills and the tight labor market. They want to work, but employers have difficulty recognizing suitable candidates. They mainly look for familiar diplomas, resumes or career paths.
Scharf felt that there had to be a better way. So he built technologies and applications that consider everything about a job seeker: training, diplomas, certificates, but also the individual’s skills. To do that, SkillLab uses artificial intelligence (AI). “We use AI to interview people about the skills they’ve learned in life. We then use the 13,485 skills, competencies and qualifications listed in a database that the European Union made available to developers to enhance job mobility in Europe.”
SkillLab is intended for job seekers, employers and recruiters. Job seekers can use it to identify their skills, while employers can state which skills are needed for the job. “That way, job seekers can immediately see which jobs fit them best”, explains Scharf. “SkillLab can also match the two parties. A job seeker still needs to be invited for an interview, but the employer already knows that they’re objectively a good match.”
The past few years have been good ones for Scharf. Since SkillLab won the Google AI Impact Award in 2019, his social enterprise has blossomed. It now employs 50 people, the technology is available in 28 languages, and they are active in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “Our technology and applications are used by job seekers, organizations that help people find work, and commercial and social enterprises.”
Scharf expects to reach a million people per year by late 2023. “It takes a lot of time to develop the technology and applications. We were initially able to finance that with the cash prize that comes with the Google AI Impact Award and our first contracts. One of our first clients was the City of Amsterdam. That was soon followed by impact investors, who are constantly looking for interesting investments. With Rabo Foundation’s help, we were able to continue expanding. They provided us with a loan during the start-up phase, and they doubled that amount during the scale-up phase. We’re really pleased with that, because bank support isn’t always available for start-ups.”
Transforming the job market
Nanouk Grootendorst, Program Manager at Rabo Foundation, explains why there is so much confidence in SkillLab. “They contribute to the transformation of the job market, which we believe is desperately needed. Everyone deserves a fair chance in the job market. Moreover, jobs are changing rapidly due to digitization and the use of AI. The focus on skills is a perfect fit with today’s changing labor market and the trend towards Life Long Learning. SkillLab is also a big help for newcomers, like refugees and economic migrants, who want to get to work. SkillLab grew fast, and proved to be a solid business model. So they were also quickly eligible for a standard commercial loan from Rabobank.”
One of SkillLab’s main benefits is that the company isn’t limited by national boundaries. “I started this because newcomers don’t have equal opportunities”, says Scharf. “But SkillLab is of course also useful for anyone looking for a suitable job, whether they have trouble finding paid employment or not. Our goal is to support as many people as possible in finding work, and to let more people take advantage of our service. To do that, we strive to reach financial stability over the next few years, so that we can continue developing our technology and applications. A more equitable job market is within reach.”