Want to hear more from us?


Transforming GenZ engagement with Bright Network’s James Uffindell

Tuesday 7th May

Transforming GenZ engagement with Bright Network’s James Uffindell

The mismatch in expectations between candidates and employers and what to do about it, plus how to use GenAI to transform your GenZ engagement strategy | With Bright Network’s James Uffindell

James Uffindell is the CEO and founder of Bright Network. And he’s on a mission to build the workforce of tomorrow, using technology and data to connect the world's most forward-thinking organisations with the UK's brightest students and graduates –– improving the diversity and social mobility of our talent pools in the process. 

As if that’s not enough, James also supports young entrepreneurs by offering advice and networking opportunities that would have otherwise been inaccessible. 

What does that mean in reality? There’s not a lot about what students and graduates want from employers that James doesn’t have a very well-informed perspective on. 

Join James and Robert Newry for the latest episode of the TA Disruptors podcast as they discuss…

🚀 The mismatch between what employers and candidates expect from one another, and what to do about it, according to new data from Bright Network’s annual ‘What do graduates want?’ report 

📉​ Why a lack of tech skills is projected to cost the UK economy over £180 billion over the next 10 years, the root cause of why we’re facing over one million unfilled vacancies in the UK, and how reframing your thinking to hire for potential could be the answer to overcoming the skills crisis 

🤖 ​Why Gen Z’s scepticism of marketing drove Bright Network to experiment with GenAI, and how a few simple tactics managed to 10X the effectiveness of their candidate marketing programmes 

🧠​ Tips on how to move away from conventional wisdom to make your hiring process more scientific and robust 

💻 ​Advice on how to manage candidates’ use of GenAI, why employers should promote transparent and ethical usage, and why failing to do so could lead to employers losing their competitive edge. 

It’s an episode you won’t want to miss. 

Listen below 👇

Podcast Transcript:

Robert: Welcome to the TA Disruptors podcast. I'm Robert Newry, CEO and co-founder of Arctic Shores, the task-based psychometric company who helps organisations uncover potential and see more in people. We live in a time of great change and talent acquisition leaders and managers who survive and thrive will be the ones who learn and adapt.

And to help them on that journey, I've been talking to TA leaders, thought leaders, and practitioners, to discover from them how they are dealing with this change. And today, I'm super excited to welcome a friend, a co-founder, and entrepreneur, James Uffindell, CEO and founder of Bright Network.

We have a special connection because we set up our businesses almost at the same time, 10 years ago. And I remember very much going along to your Regent Street offices. And a lot has changed for both of us since then. And I think you're hitting new milestones at the moment. So James, why don't you just tell us a bit about Bright Network and where you are today? 

James: Thanks Robert. And great to be on the podcast. Huge, huge fan of what you're doing. Huge, huge fan of the podcast. So I'm the founder and CEO of Bright Network. As you say, we set Bright Network up 10 years ago with the mission of how do we build the workforce of tomorrow. We now have over a million members of Bright Network, so it's completely free to join. And we are lucky enough to be partnered with 300 plus incredible world leading employers from all over the world. And we are the number one way that young people get their first job in the UK and we've just launched into Germany as well. So yeah, it's exciting times. 

Robert: Wow, that's amazing. A million people on your platform. So you've come a long way since when you started. So why don't you share with us about how that all started? What prompted you? I know you've set up a few businesses in the past, but what was the origin story for Bright Network? 

James: When we set up Bright Network, we believe that talent is everywhere, but opportunity isn't. And how do you. connect that amazing talent we have in the UK with opportunity. And they often say with kind of founders and entrepreneurs as kind of you are as well, they say that kind of founders solve their own problems. Yes. And at university, I was very, very lucky. I was raised by a kind of single working mother. We were living in rented accommodation and I got lucky enough to go to Oxford because purely because a teacher at my school spotted me, encouraged me to apply to a top university, went off to that university, but didn't have any kind of family connections around me. 

You know, my peers are running off kind of doing internships and what I get, get, and what I call the tap on the shoulder. If you're born into a certain family, um, I observed people getting kind of advice and information at the right time in their career. So I always remember a friend of mine and he went off as in second year in a second year to do a, um, a vacation scheme, a law firm, which is just an internship. I had no idea what an, uh, vacation scheme was. I spent my second year working in the pub where I grew up. And that was because he got the right advice at the right time. Anyway, but I've always been very entrepreneurial and I wanted to help others access kind of higher education. I realized there's a problem with students applying to top two universities, often not applying in the first place and when they're applied not getting the right support. 

So I set up an organisation helping students apply to their, apply to university. And yeah, so I was 21, founder. And I got very lucky. The organisation grew very quickly. I built that through my 20s. It was an amazing experience going into schools all over the UK, helping these students apply with interviews and application forms, et cetera. And I built that business and I sold it in 2013. And what was happening then was those students who had helped apply to university from all over the UK were coming back to me saying, how do I get a job? Thanks for all your help your help getting into a good university. 

And I was like, surely someone solved this problem now. Surely there's something that helps bright young people connect with the world of work. And I thought about it and I was like, well, it's incredible what those kids get who come from those backgrounds, but you can replicate that with technology and data and now obviously AI. So I was like, well, what we need to do is you need to get these incredible bright young people and particularly from non-traditional backgrounds in terms of and ethnicity, social mobility, et cetera. And companies are saying, we want the best and brightest from all backgrounds. And you can use tech and data to give them that tap on the shoulder.

And to tell them and to open doors and to kind of help them get where they want to go. So set up with BrightNet with that vision. It was just me in a kind of a little, literally like little kind of broom cupboard, having sold the first business. And yeah, it's now grown with nearly a million, sorry, we're over a million members now, we've just hit a million. I'm used to saying nearly a million, but we actually now hit the million, which is great. And we have the 300 employers, we have 125 on average on the platform at any one time. As I said, we're the market leader in the UK. So that was a little bit of the background, I think founders solve their own problems. And that's what makes me bounce out of bed every morning to continue the mission to now, we've got about 120, 130 kind of on the team now. 

Robert: Yeah, and that's a fantastic journey that you've been on and a great story as to how innovation and change happens. It's because people see a problem and willing to then try and solve it. And I think the bit I love about your story that you shared there was the tap on the shoulder and how then do we level the playing field and give everybody that opportunity. And it's a big challenge that we, even 10 years since you started and I started it's yours. There's still a big social divide for many people coming out of university and looking then to get a good job. And I wonder how we get to get sort of your thoughts on this about the skills then that you're seeing now coming 10 years on from when you started, because the first bit was a tapping on the shoulder so you get the introduction but we're now in a sort of different set of skills almost, it seems. And so, yeah, how has some of the, in the last 10 years, some of that change from what you saw was helping people when you started getting to the world of work and where we are today? 

James: Absolutely. So it was interesting when we started because firms were really at the beginning of that journey, I think, in terms of how do we get kind of talent from everywhere. And they've made such incredible strides on that, which is super exciting to see.

The big skills gap is obviously tech skills. So a report by Accenture, the tech skills crisis is projected to cost the UK economy 180 billion over the next 10 years. So it's a danger of really holding back the UK. 50% of graduate recruiters struggle to fill all their tech skills roles. But then also you have 50% of graduates in roles that don't require a degree and we have roughly a million vacancies are completely unfilled because of the skills crisis. So yeah, it's a huge challenge for the UK, but also I think an exciting opportunity. If we think about how the UK competes and the British people are our biggest assets and in an increasingly competitive world when we're competing with kind of like China in the US and et cetera, is how do we make sure we feel that skills crisis is absolutely critical. So in terms of those skills. We have a constant upskilling platform on Bright Network. We've just launched our technology academy and we benefit hugely there in terms of using the Arctic Shore system to help select kind of exceptional talents. 90% of those young people who we take are either from an ethnic minority background, have some kind of social mobility market such as free school meals. They're female or they're neurodiverse. So we take this incredible talent pool. We use Arctic Shores to select the creme de la creme.

And then we train them for three months to become junior full stack software engineers. And then we deploy them into our, into our clients. And it's this kind of, in this new thinking, um, where we're basically taking super bright graduates, training them for three months over a 12 week bootcamp that it would cost them 10,000 pounds. If they were to go and buy those skills themselves and then getting, and then kind of doing everything to put them into a job afterwards that I think is an example of hopefully fast-paced innovation where you can kind of do everything we can to kind of solve the skills crisis. 

Robert: Yeah, I think that's really interesting. I'd like to just dive a bit more into that, that, you know, fascinating, so 90%, you know, coming from the different types of backgrounds that you'd normally expect to go into digital technology-led careers. And so just share with us then how do you do that? How do you reach out and find people who perhaps have come from an arts background but never even considered perhaps going into a tech. 

So you've got two challenges here. You've got one, how do you persuade them that actually this could be a very interesting career for them? And then the second, how do you actually uncover you talked about the creme de la creme. How do you then uncover that they've got the capability, because the danger is you can attract them, and then it turns out that they don't necessarily have the capability. The first part of that is how do we find them? So being the market leader in the UK, we signed up over 200,000 students in the last year alone. So we are signing up more and more of the best talents. And then coming back to, I guess, how careers often work in kind of well-connected families, is giving them the right information at the right time.

James: So we have over 300 million data points on our network and that's everything from when they sign up, what they say to us, what kind of what content they're looking at. So a bit like imagine Instagram in terms of personalizing content. We do a psychometric profile when they join our platform as well that helps us understand them better and then finally learning data. So we do a lot of online learning. So that means we know about them a bit like I guess a kind of an older brother or sister or parent would. So when we contact them, or what we're talking to them about means that they will engage with what we're putting in front of them because we don't spam them. 

Because Gen Z, as we know, they want personalisation, they are very skeptical of marketing, but the stuff we put in front of them is so precise and so on the nose of what they're interested in, that's where we get kind of super high levels of engagement. And that then means because we get more engagement, we're able to personalize more. So our whole software engineering team, which is based at our… or hub up in Edinburgh, all the time they are using AI, which I know is a kind of a big focus of your podcast, which is absolutely brilliant. We're using AI and data to engage a very demanding audience. And that's where in the team, we're always focusing on that understanding of Gen Z. We do a huge kind of research report every year. And yeah, under personalising exactly what is relevant for that individual is I think the key to that success.

So then to your point in terms of how do we select the best, obviously we've got kind of years of doing this now, Arctic Shores has said is a fantastic tool we're finding. And then when they join our 12 week bootcamp, we're then assessing them all the way through that, how they perform coding tests, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, which means at the end, we're able to offer to our blue chip partners, exceptional talent. 

Robert: Yes. And so I think it's such an interesting story around this because as you said, we've got, you know, massive skills crisis. People are meant to be the UK's greatest asset and yet, you know, we've got deficiencies in education in terms of preparing them for the skills that companies are crying out for. And so you've found a way of, you know, personalised messaging, understand through that engagement, then being able to assess them and then train them. Then I suppose what's important as part of this is how do they then do on your client side? So I suppose this is just completing the story that you can find people for potential from these different backgrounds. And then how, can you share any kind of statistics rates? How long do they last? Do they get promoted in those roles in those organisations? 

James: Yeah, absolutely. So relatively excitingly now, so the first part of the mission was getting them into these firms. What we're doing now is studying kind of when they're in the firms, how, how will they do and perform. So the very early stage of this, but once that we do have is that, um, on our technology Academy, part of our business, which I started actually just, um, after the pandemic hit. So in terms of a time to start something, the three, you know, worst recession in 300 years. Um, and that is really motoring. We've just had an incredible, um, lady from Amazon to come and run that business, um, called Cecile. And 90%. plus of our deployed software engineers are still enrolled two years later. 

Robert: Okay, so given how fast. 

James: Yeah, huge turn, huge turn in Gen Z. And yeah, so 90% plus our sticking. But then we're now starting to look in terms of kind of performance enrolled, et cetera, et cetera. That's kind of a new taste that'll be coming through. 

Robert: Yes. So you're doing your bit to help address the skills gap here and find people with potential. But you can't do it all on your own What advice do you have for some of the large graduate employers there who are trying to do it themselves and perhaps who should be thinking, you know, this is a good opportunity, I think, to re-look at your whole future careers programme? 

James: Yeah, absolutely. It's been very exciting watching the industry go on a digital journey over the last few years when I came into the industry, obviously a lot of it was still kind of paper-based. There's a lot of just conventional thinking in terms that only go to certain universities and only kind of really try to attract certain types of individuals. And things like, for example, the scrapping of the CV, that's been a really powerful thing, which I know again is something you've kind of been key in terms of our industry. In driving on that, it's very, very exciting. Generally making hiring more scientific and robust as much as you can. 

We know there's no silver bullets. Even the most high performance organizations in the world will still make bad hires, but bringing kind of more data and kind of robust thoroughness to hiring processes versus if somebody just like somebody else or they went to the same university or they did the same degree. And my top advice for TA professionals, because obviously they're under pressure a lot from senior people and businesses, who have a lot of power, often control budgets, have a set way of doing things, is just take the evidence. There's that famous quote, I can't remember who said it, but in God we trust, everybody else must bring data. So, and we've done it at Bright Network. We want the best and brightest in our business. Obviously, we've had to go on our own journey in terms of scaling up, which is hard, because only… to only 2% of businesses grow at more than 20% a year. And we've been one of those businesses. I was very lucky to do a programme that Goldman Sachs do for scale-up entrepreneurs and that kind of taught me a lot. But it is all about talent. So we've got a fantastic people team in our business. So it's been interesting to watch us putting in more robust processes as we've scaled our talent acquisition and then becoming a bit of a thought leader in that space. But in a nutshell, just more data, making things as objective as possible. And again, that's something that you'll lead in the field on with Arctic Shores, I think. 

Robert: And I think that's such an interesting point about more objective data. Because again, if we go back 10 years ago, when you and I started on this, there were still two one degrees was a minimum requirement. I think if you looked at all the big four professional services accounting firms on that, that would have been a minimum requirement to even apply to them. That's I think pretty well gone now.

So you don't have some of those barriers that used to be in there. I think the other one that is sort of interesting about this and it would be good to get your kind of take on it too is if you take away some of these things, 2-1, any kind of necessarily… it might be a specific, have you done an internship in this field? Because you talked about how everybody else was heading off to an internship at a law firm and you were working in the pub. I think there's amazing transferable skills that you can get from working in the pub. How you deal with challenging customers, how you just build up empathy with people, how you organise things when it gets very, very hectic. How can we do more, I suppose, James, around that is to bring that to light for people to, because I get the data piece. But if we're pointing, I suppose my point is, if the data is being pointed in a way that doesn't bring out some of these things, then we're in danger of not really making the difference that we wanted. I understand.

James: So I think it's too, I think it's educating the TAE community, which obviously things like this are great at, and there's some incredible thought leadership going on there. And as I said, it's been wonderful to watch that community become kind of better and better. And that's the demand side, I guess. The part that is demanding the data, sorry, I haven't done economics at uni.

And on the supply side, and this is where we get very excited about Bright Network and what we do. We kind of, actually one of our members said it the day and we just celebrated 10 years and in our tenure impact, there are reports they describe Bright Network as kind of the, you know, the ultimate well-connected family. Someone described us as like a bit of a mafia family in terms of just that like power on the supply side, the opportunity is to educate the students and the young people about what they can achieve with their lives.

And as an example of this, one of my favorite moments every year is we do a big research report. So we have about 400 of our kind of partners all in a room and we release our research from about 15,000 Bright Network members. And every year we ask our partners, what skills are you after? So back to your point about qualities. And we ask the students, what skills do you think employers want? Yes. And there is always a huge mismatch. So the students think, employers are after a 2-1. Right. Right. I still think. Yeah. Yeah. 2-1. And they also they think that employers are after industry experience. So you can't go into a sector unless you know about that sector. The reality is employers, the things they value the most are resilience. And this generation have been incredibly resilient, obviously, kind of going through COVID. Exactly. Communication skills, commercial awareness, teamwork.

So what we do at Bright Network is educating those young people and say, look, it doesn't matter if you don't know about this sector, or actually, here's an example of how you can find out about that sector super easily. So when the pandemic hits, we just completed a fund round around literally about a week before, and we launched something called Internship Experience UK, which over 150,000 young people have done now. And that was short three-day internship experiences, for example, like investment banking law, which helped those students make that bridge so they felt more confident. Yes. So they could understand actually what are these careers. So when I think about Bright Network, we're kind of solving two problems. One, what should I do with my life? Like what are all the different options open to me? And secondly, now I've decided I want to go into that. What are the steps I need to take?

So coming back to your question around how do you kind of educate the young people about those skills? It's driving home those messages around, you know, work on your communications skills, work on your resilience. And we have something, an online portal where we have a load of kind of a load of video content and online training, thinking about scale and that's super powerful. And yeah, our members and they tell their stories about having gone through the Bright Network system to get their jobs. They have all these different touch points. They might come to our Bright Network Festival that we do in Westminster every year, it's just about 4,000 people come to it or they might have done some online training or done the psychometric test. So we take them on that journey to make sure they've got the skills that employers need because for me it is a matching problem. Again actually you just made me realize something, we essentially have a bit of a broken market.

Robert: So what we're trying to do is make that work more efficiently. Because I think that's interesting about how you make that work a bit more efficiently because we you know one of the challenges, it's fascinating your research on there of what students think employers want and then what employers say they want and part of the challenge that we've had in and what creates a mismatch at the moment is we don't seem to have a common language that enables those two groups to connect. And I'd love just to get your perspective on skills too. I certainly will be challenging your understanding of this term, but it's a lot. I am fascinated by this point about skills and what we mean by skills too.

So, you talked a little bit about resilience and communication. And I'm with you on those. I think those are really important. But actually, even from an employer's point of view, they don't necessarily define those as skills. And we've got a bit of a challenge there, haven't we? And I think that's part of the reason around the mismatch in there, is you can say, oh, I'm looking for resilience. Was that a skill or is that a personality trait? And then is, what about, oh, I've got some customer service experience. Is that then a competency that you know how to? deal with a customer facing. So there's a bit. Have you been thinking about that at all, about how we address just some of the language I suppose we use around this to try and improve then that matching?

James: Yeah, absolutely. So, and I agree, is it a kind of personality trait or quality for example, something like resilience? And you're getting to very deep things now, for example, a lot of the research suggests that you're kind of fully cooked by eight years old in terms of just kind of where your personality is. And obviously, I mean, we haven't started properly talking about AI yet. So I think the exciting thing with, for example, kind of dropping CVs and firms are looking more for kind of what are these innate characteristics and kind of hiring for qualities and then the potential to kind of train for skills. But then I think we try and say to our students, look, you kind of give them an indicator that you're interested, like give them, that you want to acquire those skills, for example.  So yeah, I think that's a little bit of how I think about it. 

Robert: Let's, let's go to the world of Gen. AI now, because that clearly, potentially, has a way of helping us address some of this matching. So what's your perspective on Gen. AI, and is this gonna make the skills crisis worse or better? 

James: I'm an optimist naturally, as you and I both know, kind of being entrepreneurs, you have to be optimistic, but you obviously wanna be realistic as well. So I'm incredibly excited about AI, and I'm gonna give you an immediate example of how it's how it's ability to drive social mobility. So obviously what we're doing at Bright Network is matching talent and opportunity. And we do that in a lot of ways, but one of the ways we do it is members get a newsletter that is essentially about kind of things that might be of interest to them. We started investing in AI about, probably about two years ago, and the newsletters used to be done by the team. So they'd make about kind of nine or 10 different newsletters for different kind of segments of our network. And then we started to get AI to make these newsletters. 

So every member gets a individualized newsletter. And that increased our matching ability by 10x. So it went up 1000% in terms of the quality of those matches. And we take a match by basically, is a member interested in what's being put in front of them and in terms of the content we're putting in front of them about articles they should be reading on the Bright Network platform, but also kind of jobs. So- You know that through a like, or how do you- Yes, when they make that click on that piece of content or on that job, it ends up by 10x due to AI. That much more engagement. Yes, that much more engagement. So again, if you think about coming back to this family analogy, and the ability to put the right information in front of the right person at the right time, it's super exciting.

And if you think about what we're doing at Bright Network, we're putting in front of them relevant jobs, content, and also kind of connecting them to interesting people as well that we do our events. Yeah, we're very, very excited in terms of that. And we're just getting started on that path. So yeah, I think it's phenomenally exciting. It is.

Robert: And I get that sort of personalization and just being able to draw on tons of content that you wouldn't be able to access otherwise. There is another side to it too though, so you're using gen AI to help personalise and that's great and candidates and members of the Bright Network community will see the benefit of that. But do you have a perspective on what organisations should be saying to candidates when they come to applying? 

Because one of the concerns I've had in the last six months or so is that most companies seem to be sitting on the fence and I did a very sort of rough search through career sites and found virtually none that were giving any kind of decent guidance on how you could use Genai in the application process. And then Shoesmiths, the managing partner of Shoesmiths came out on last week, Thursday, Friday, to say we see this as a really important part of the way that we work, and therefore we encourage candidates to use it in the application process too. So what's your perspective on, you're clearly optimistic about it. But should companies be doing more to tell people how to use Gen.AI in their application process? 

James: So I think it's a fascinating period because everyone's grappling to understand kind of how this works. So obviously you've been covering this in the podcast, is you've got candidates using AI to put in applications and we get inundated as well with the classic rewrite this application so it's not written by AI, and all that stuff which is kind of amusing. And then firms are obviously making their stuff kind of more efficient as well in terms of how they get to talent, how they get to talents.

And we're in this discovery phase. It feels a little bit like kind of, you and I are old enough to remember when social media came along, right? And it's like everybody's just kind of running around trying to understand it. We know it's not going away. And in a nutshell, yeah, I think it makes complete sense. Candidates are using AI. If firms can recognise that, that would be great. And the more transparency and openness are normally a good thing. But I guess some firms are gonna want to maybe move a bit slower, because they're going to, you know, it's the classic kind of, you know, you've got the early adopters and then you're right. So, Shoesmiths obviously be an example there and it will just take time. But yeah, the sooner we can have an honest conversation between candidates and firms about what this new thing is and what's kind of ethical and what's not and how we go about things. I think the best for everybody. 

Robert: Yeah, and I think that's right. And I think what's ethical and not is important in this. Also, what's sort of interesting is that a lot of the recruitment processes, so the way, so this point about, you've tapped somebody on the shoulder, then they go to apply for a role. But that whole process of understanding whether they're a good match for that organisation and what that organisation is looking for is based on a very traditional way of how we assess for talent. And probably there's a great opportunity to rethink that now. 

James: Yes, absolutely. And it's the entrepreneurial, fast-moving, commercial, adaptive organisations that will win. Yes. And ultimately companies are just the people who are in them and they are collections of talents. And ultimately those firms that don't adapt kind of fast enough are not gonna be able to compete. And it's a bit like actually with the changing attitudes to the world of work and hybrid working. And actually interestingly we're seeing Gen Z want to get back into the office. That's a kind of a big theme of our research this year in terms of Gen Z wanting to get back into the office, but you still hear stories, I won't name them, but I was hearing a story of a firm, some people over the weekend before last, and they're talking about a very, very successful, you know the name for it, I shared it with you, but a very successful kind of manufacturing engineering firm and they've got a huge moat making loads of money.

And they've basically said, look, everybody, you know, kind of back into the office all the time. And they can do that because they have that kind of market power now because they can super successful firm, they can pay top wages, et cetera, but people don't seem to enjoy that. And not to get into the whole debate around hybrid working, because for some firms, they do need their employees in five days a week, and that's actually what they need, and that's actually best for the business. But yeah, it's about being adaptive and winning that war for talent, which can arguably be a longer term thing. 

Robert: Yeah, and it's an interesting one actually as to what that means for skills too because part of the, you know, you're talking about teamwork and collaboration being, you know, an important, we're recognising that as being really important in terms of the value that somebody can bring to the workplace. And that gets more challenging to do that remotely, it is, and we need to kind of figure out a way where organisations can still facilitate that teamwork in a face-to-face.

Rather than it being binary, you're either in office all the time or you're working from home. It needs to be a blend somehow and we've got much better ways of being able to organise ourselves to deal with that. Absolutely, and I think measuring by output rather than input and obviously hybrid work's been fantastic for a lot of society reasons. One of the things that I don't think is talked about enough is the benefits that hybrid work has had for parents. 

James: Yes. The idea that they can, and returners absolutely, that they can pick the kids up late afternoon and they're gonna do that and then they might be online later or they might be online early in the morning. A member of my team, they text his daughter swimming kind of regularly every week in I think it's Tuesday mornings. But it's like that flexibility is a really kind of very, very healthy thing.

I think there's two elements around the kind of back to work thing. One is a psychological element, which is humans are social animals. And, you know, for millennia, we have left our home to go and do work. And that might have been hunting mammoths that might have been going to the office, but being together, working with people is something and being socialist is part of what I think it means to be human. And, and, and secondly, particularly with early years, talent is offices are phenomenal learning machines to be in an office with a, because you'll remember a lot of these young people, they're essentially in apprentice roles, right? They, they're new into their job, they're learning and to, if you're a salesperson, you hear the person next to you on a, on a, on a sales call, like you're learning. You can't do that. It kind of in your bedroom stuck behind zoom and also the power of serendipity. Um, you know, you just never know just so you kind of when an idea is going to come up, um, but, but it obviously needs kind of flexibility as well.

Yeah, and it's something that I'm really happy with how it's worked at Bright Network. The team kind of all been super respectful, get it? We say, look, we want, you know, it's, you know, three days a week over the year in the office. It works really well. We also do like unlimited holiday. We encourage people to work from anywhere. So people would decamp to like Naples or wherever the US for like a month. But it's just, it's not about just kind of laying down the law. It's about that kind of respecting people and if you've got the right people in the business, they're gonna get great results for you. 

Robert: They are, and I think that's the way of looking at it. And I think the final piece for me on this too is that if we're going to address this whole potential piece around filling the skills gap, then we've got to help people realise that potential and that there's as much responsibility in the sourcing and matching as there then is in the developing side too.

Because if you brought somebody from a non-traditional pathway into corporate investment banking, for example, then that's going to be a very different environment from what they're used to. And so you can't just say, you know, work from home for this. I think your point about it's a great learning environment is an important part of this too, that in that first early years, actually spending more time with people and learning from them is really important and that actually when you're thinking about potential, you're almost designing your work policy around that particular cohort rather than something that's just a bit more generic in there and I think that's probably an interesting piece for organisations to think about too because quite a lot of the work from home and hybrid working is done just generically without thinking actually, well, if we're bringing people in from different pathways, then actually, it's more important than ever that we're nurturing them in the right way. 

James: Absolutely. And it's great to see what's happening at the moment, because I think when just kind of shortly after the pandemic, there was a bit of a kind of lack of leadership, I think, because a lot of the older generation were, you know, they're in nice kind of houses, sometimes in the countryside, they've got their gardens, they've got their pets, and they, there was a bit of dereliction of duty going on because our Bright Network members who are in roles, some of them are saying, look, I go into the office and nobody's there. And it's kind of just kind of empty. And it's brilliant to see those kind of leaders now kind of wanting to get back into the office because it gets boring, right? There's only so much time you kind of, anybody needs at home. And it's quite hard to change the world from your bedroom or living room. And so yeah, it's really good to see, it feels like we're getting back to something sensible now in terms of kind of how a lot of firms are operating.

Robert: Fantastic. Well, thank you, James. It's been really interesting hearing about your story. And, you know, I absolutely salute and applaud what you've done with, you know, matching talent to opportunity. It's amazing to hear what the difference you've made. A million people on your platform. I just think that's incredible. And maybe one last thought of what next for Bright network then you must have been asked this and been thinking about that. I mean you've reached an amazing milestone so where does it go? 

James: Well thanks, massive congratulations to you and the team at Arctic Shores it really is fantastic kind of thank you. I remember that first meeting we had about 10 years ago you said at Regent Street we're both getting started you had a big vision it is it's phenomenal to see what you've achieved. So I guess kind of three main kind of focuses for us now and yeah it really does feel like we're just getting started which um after 10 years is a really wonderful feeling to have. I'm incredibly lucky to work with the team. I get to work with a bright network. So our three main areas are, continue to invest in our proprietary AI and technology so that we can drive more social mobility for our incredible members and help them connect with opportunity. We've just done a kind of a fairly significant fundraising round, so it's nice to be able to keep investing in that tech, which is exciting. Secondly, we want to take this mission overseas.

So we've become the number one kind of in the UK. I said, we've just launched out to Germany. That is going incredibly well. I put kind of one of my top people in the business on it and we're kind of building the team out there now. So that's going super, super well. And thirdly, our technology academy, which is kind of now two years old, it's really scaling nicely. And it's just so wonderfully tangible because we've moved from just kind of acquiring the talents and now kind of training it to now when it's deployed as well, kind of seeing how it performs. And that's exciting from a selection angle, because we've got all the data when these young people apply for the role. Plus we get 12 weeks of learning data as we're teaching them, how do they show up, how good is their test, et cetera. And when they're deployed out into the workforce, how they're line manager reporting on them, how are they behaving, et cetera. So the ability to link those three up puts us in a very, very, very kind of lucky position to help understanding that whole thing all the way through from recruitment to training to deployments to get better and better at understanding what good looks like and how you match incredible talent with opportunity. Wonderful, well, good luck in that. I'd like to say it would be great to get together in 10 years time, but I think the world is changing so fast. And hopefully we'll see each other before then as well. Sooner than that, but James, thank you very much for coming on to the podcast. 

Robert: Thank you, really enjoyed it and a fascinating conversation, thank you.

Read Next

Sign up for our newsletter to be notified as soon as our next research piece drops.

Join over 2,000 disruptive TA leaders and get insights into the latest trends turning TA on its head in your inbox, every week