CareerChat Bot

chatbot, bot, assistant

mohamed_hassan (CC0), Pixabay

Pontydysgu is very happy to be part of a consortium, led by DMH Associates, selected as a finalist for the CareerTech Challenge Prize!

The project is called CareerChat and the ‘pitch’ video above expalisn the ideas behind the project. CareerChat is a chatbot providing a personalised, guided career journey experience for working adults aged 24 to 65 in low skilled jobs in three major cities: Bristol, Derby and Newcastle. It offers informed, friendly and flexible high-quality, local contextual and national labour market information including specific course/training opportunities, and job vacancies to support adults within ‘at risk’ sectors and occupations

CareerChat incorporates advanced AI technologies, database applications and Natural Language Processing and can be accessed on computers, mobile phones and devices. It allows users to reflect, explore, find out and identify pathways and access to new training and work opportunities.

Nesta is delivering the CareerTech Challenge in partnership with the Department for Education as part of their National Retraining Scheme

  • Nesta research suggests that more than six million people in the UK are currently employed in occupations that are likely to radically change or entirely disappear by 2030 due to automation, population aging, urbanisation and the rise of the green economy.
  • In the nearer-term, the coronavirus crisis has intensified the importance of this problem. Recent warnings suggest that a prolonged lockdown could result in 6.5 million people losing their jobs. [1] Of these workers, nearly 80% do not have a university degree. [2]
  • The solutions being funded through the CareerTech Challenge are designed to support people who will be hit the hardest by an insecure job market over the coming years. This includes those without a degree, and working in sectors such as retail, manufacturing, construction and transport.

You can find out more information about the programme here: https://www.nesta.org.uk/project/careertech-challenge/ and email Graham Attwell directly if you would like to know more about the CareerChat project

Arts, Humanities and Social Science graduates are in demand

woman, library, books

Comfreak (CC0), Pixabay

As reported in FE News, a new report based on analysis by London Economic, ‘Qualified for the Future: Quantifying demand for arts, humanities and social science skills’ provides quantitative evidence for the employment benefits of studying the arts, humanities and social sciences at university.

The report finds that:  

  • Graduates of arts, humanities and social sciences are just as resilient to economic upheaval as other graduates and are just as likely to remain employed as STEM graduates during downturns
  • Looking at the total UK workforce, arts, humanities and social science graduates are just as likely to be employed as their STEM counterparts; the 2017 Labour Force Survey shows that 88% of HSS graduates and 89% of STEM graduates were employed in that year
  • Of the ten fastest growing sectors in the UK economy, eight employ more graduates from the arts, humanities and social science than other disciplines. They include the well-paid information and communication industry and finance sector
  • HSS graduates are the backbone of the economy, with the majority working in the UK services sector. The service sector accounts for 81% of the UK’s total economic output and is second only to the US in export value globally
  • HSS graduates will be essential to fill in the workforce gaps of the future, particularly those studying fine arts, history and archaeology, philosophy and theology, geography, sociology and anthropology
  • While the health sector is the dominant destination for recent STEM graduates, HSS graduates choose to work in a wide range of sectors across the economy, including financial services, education, social work, the media and creative industries.

I have long been dubious of what I see as an overemphasis on STEM subjects from an employment perspective and this report would seem to support such scepticism. And I can well understand the advantages HSS graduates may have in their flexibility and employment resilience.  However, one worry lies in that focus on jobs in the services sector. Obviously as a sector accounting for 81% of the UK’s total economic output, the sector is very broad and will include a spread of occupations. Many, I fear will be in lower paid and precarious employment.

Digital innovations webinar

mark, marker, hand

geralt (CC0), Pixabay

Pontydysgu has recently been working with Deirdre Hughes from DH Associates in developing a serie sof Webinars around the use of technology, including AI, in career development

. The next webinar in the series – entitled Digital Innovations is on 6th May from 1630 – 1730 CEST (an hour earlier if you are in the UK time zone) and will include presentations from Rhys Herriott, NESTA CareerTech Challenge and Gareth Phillips, Head of Communications, Careers Wales.

This webinar explores digitial innovations in a career development context.

Nesta research suggests that more than six million people in the UK are currently employed in occupations that are likely to radically change or entirely disappear by 2030 due to Artificial Intelligence, automation, population aging, urbanisation and the rise of the green economy. In the nearer-term, the coronavirus crisis has intensified the importance of this problem. Recent warnings suggest that a prolonged lockdown could result in 6.5 million people losing their jobs. Of these workers, nearly 80% do not have a university degree.

Nesta is delivering the CareerTech Challenge in the UK, in partnership with the Department for Education, as part of their National Retraining Scheme. Solutions being funded through the CareerTech Challenge are designed to support people who will be hit the hardest by an insecure job market over the coming years.

Careers Wales is on a digital transformation journey from its award winning use of video, exciting new gaming developments and pioneering website and resources. In recent times the company has adapted its service delivery model in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. Key lessons are being learned in relation to the role of digital as they look ahead and plan for the new normal.

Note: DMH Associates and Pontydysgu are supported by DfE and Nesta through the CareerTech Challenge. You can find out more information about the programme here: https://www.nesta.org.uk/project/careertech-challenge/.

You can sign up for the webinar here.

Urban economies and the Covid 19 crisis

bicycle, vintage, street

3888952 (CC0), Pixabay

Been a while since I last posted here. It i s not that I have been inactive – far from it. It is just that either everyone else seemed to be saying what I wanted to say – and usually better and the strangely unsettling effect of the lockdown in Spain.

Any way I am back here writing again and with a lot of things to talk about.

One area of my work is the provision of Labour Market Information to support careers guidance, primarily in the UK. And just as in other areas of education careers guidance is fast moving online. However providing access to data about the jobs of the future is not an easy business. on the LMI for All database which I work with, only two months ago we published an update of our ‘Working Futures’ data, with projected employment up to 2030 in different jobs. Interestingly, it is the most popular of the ten or so different data sets we provide. But I seriously wonder how accurate that data is any longer.

I have been to a number of webinars about the future of employment and there is increasingly data and analysis coming out. I think one of the unknown factors (leaving aside the question of when a vaccine for Covid 19 might be available) is government policies and reactions to the deep recession sparked off by the pandemic. Policy not only includes direct support to industries, enterprises and individuals but also how the broader economy is regulated in the future (more on this in a future post).

Some of the best analysis of the labour market I have seen (at least for the UK) is from the Centre for Cities. In an article entitled “What does the C0vid 19 crisis mean for the economies of British cities and large towns?” they report that the impact of the pandemic varies in different locations.

  • Sales at non-grocery suppliers fell by around 45 per cent, compared to the same week of last year. Spending at grocery suppliers rose by 16 per cent, as people eat more at home.
  • Pretty university towns and cities have been hit twice – they have lost their students and their tourists. Oxford and Brighton saw massive spending falls – plummeting around 60 per cent compared to the same week last year;
  • The biggest falls have come in smaller tourist towns. Excluding grocery spending, Penrith in Cumbria has seen spending fall 82 per cent fall. Penzance, in Cornwall, has seen an 85 per cent drop;
  • The big cities have all suffered, but with significant variation. Leeds, Cardiff and Liverpool are down more than 30 per cent, but have done better so far than Sheffield and Nottingham – both down by around half;
  • London sales are down by 29 percent overall, but its figures are flattered by being a financial centre. Outside of the centre, spending is down by 40 per cent.
  • Areas with strong retail and wholesale industries, such as Peterborough, have also seen serious declines. Areas with lots of employment in coffee shops, restaurants and sports have also seen particular falls in sales – as have the areas around airports.
  • Local customers are critical. The strongest predictor of how well a neighbourhood’s businesses will do is what share of its old customer base lived nearby. Shops that rely on customers who travel more than a mile to get to them are doing worse.

The article draws particular attention to what they call the ‘localisation effect’. Quite simply how well or badly shops and businesses are doing depends on the percentage of their customers who live locally. Looking on from Spain, I wonder how much the move to out of twon shopping has effected the UK, where high streets were already in trouble before the lockdown. In Spanish cities the housing density is usually higher, with local shops and markets in easy reach for most purchases and probably more likely to survive. On the other hand the large numbers of small bars and terraces are being devastated by the crisis.

Anyway much more to come on this theme in next couple of weeks.

Case study. The Ada chatbot: personalised, AI-driven assistant for each student.

As part of the AI and vocational education and training project funded through the EU Erasmus plus project we are producing a series of case studies of the use of AI in VET in five European countries. Here is my first case study – the Ada chatbot developed at Bolton College.

About Bolton College

Bolton College is one of the leading vocational education and training providers in the North West of England, specialising in delivering training – locally, regionally and nationally – to school leavers, adults and employers. The college employs over 550 staff members who teach over 14,500 full and part time students across a range of centres around Bolton. The college’s Learning Technology Team has a proven reputation for the use of learning analytics, machine learning and adaptive learning to support students as they progress with their studies.

The Ada Chatbot

The Learning Technology Team has developed a digital assistant called Ada which went live in April 2017. Ada, which uses the IBM Watson AI engine, can respond to a wide range of student inquiries across multiple domains. The college’s Learning Technology Lead, Aftab Hussain, says “It transforms the way students get information and insights that support them with their studies.” He explains: “It can be hard to find information on the campus. We have an information overload. We have lots of data but it is hard to manage. We don’t have the tools to manage it – this includes teachers, managers and students.” Ada was first developed to overcome the complexity of accessing information and data.

Student questions

Ada is able to respond to student questions including:

  1. General inquiries from students about the college (for example: semester dates, library opening hours, exam office locations, campus activities, deadline for applying for university and more);
  2. Specific questions from students about their studies (for example: What lessons do I have today/this afternoon/tomorrow? Who are my teachers? What’s my attendance like? When is my next exam? When and where is my work placement? What qualifications do I have? What courses am I enrolled in? etc.)
  3. Subject specific inquiries from students. Bolton College is teaching Ada to respond to questions relating to GCSE Maths, GCSE English and the employability curriculum.

Personalised and contextualised learning

Aftab Hussein explains: “We are connecting all campus data sets. Ada can reply to questions contextually. She recognises who you are and is personalised according to who you are and where you are in the student life cycle. The home page uses Natural Language Processing and the Watson AI engine. It can reply to 25000 questions around issues such as mental health or library opening times etc. It also includes subject specific enquiries including around English, Mathematics and business and employability. All teachers have been invited to submit the top 20 queries they receive. Machine learning can recognise the questions. The technical process is easy.” However, he acknowledges that inputting data into the system can be time consuming and they are looking at ways of automatically reading course documentation and presentations.

All the technical development has been undertaken in house. As well as being accessible through the web, Ada, has both IOS and Android apps and can also be queried though smart speakers.

The system also links to the college Moodle installation and can provide access to assignments, college information services and curriculum materials. The system is increasingly being used in online tutorials providing both questions for participants and access to learning materials for instance videos including for health and social care.

It is personalised for individuals and contextualised according to what they are doing or want to find out. Aftab says: “We are looking at the transactional distance – the system provides immediate feedback reducing the transactional distance. “

Digital assessment

Work is also being undertaken in developing the use of the bot for assessment. This is initially being used for the evaluation of work experience, where students need to provide short examples of how they are meeting objectives – for example in collaboration or problem solving. Answers can uploaded, evaluated by the AI and feedback returned instantly.

Nudging

Since March 2019, the Ada service has provided nudges to students with timely and contextualised information, advice and guidance (IAG) to support their studies. The service nudges students about forthcoming exams, their work placement feedback and more. In the following example, a student receives feedback regarding his work placement from his career coach and employer.

The College is currently implementing ProMonitor, a service which will offer teachers and tutors with a scalable solution for managing and supporting the progress made by their students. Once ProMonitor is in place, Ada will be in a position to nudge students about forthcoming assignments and the grades awarded for those assignments. She will also offer students advice and guidance about staying on track with their studies. Likewise, Ada will nudge teachers and student support teams to inform them about student progress; allowing for timely support to be put in place for students across the College.

A personal lifelong learning companion

For Aftab Hussein the persona of the digital agent is important. “In the future”, he says, “every child will have a personal lifelong learning companion which will support teaching and learning.” He thinks they will probably come from the big platform suppliers. Children will have their digital assistant from age the age of 3 or 4 and will have a Personal Learner Number allowing data to be exchanged between different institutions,