Chris Keenan, the Co-Founder and CEO of Unibeez, studied economics and finance and was headed toward a career in the financial market. Then, something different piqued his interest – the opportunity to work as a media professional instead. The change of stance not only marked the beginning of his time at Sky News and the work that took him across the world, but also sparked the idea for his business.
“It’s really interesting in terms of where we’re at today,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “There are students who may be following a particular degree that they’re thinking about having a career in, when in actuality, they may be better suited to working for a different business or in a different area altogether.
“That’s partly what Unibeez is meant to provide. We’ve set up this company as the United Kingdom’s leading skills-based talent platform to grow the accessible labor market for businesses and to help digitally native university students and recent graduates build their career equity.”
Founded at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Unibeez is a software as a service platform where EdTech meets HR Tech to connect emerging talent with a diverse range of hirers – from start-ups and scale-ups looking for skilled individuals today, to FTSE100 companies looking to pipeline tomorrow’s talent.
“It’s a great opportunity for candidates to earn as well as learn by doing real world projects, internships and apprenticeships, and transition to permanent jobs,” Keenan says. “It’s where emerging talent can learn about different businesses, different sectors and different workplace cultures before deciding on their career direction.”
Creation in motion
Keenan’s personal experience and his son’s insights helped him identify a gap in the market. And despite being a decade in the making, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
“I had a son at university and I asked him, ‘What are students worried about today? What are the things that keep them awake at night?’ He said to me, ‘Money, debt and career,’” Keenan recalls.
“I had a son at university and I asked him, ‘What are students worried about today? What are the things that keep them awake at night?’”
With a highly fragmented student marketplace, young adults were struggling to navigate their career paths and many were concerned about their financial situation. To tackle these issues, Keenan conducted extensive research by speaking with students from various universities across the United Kingdom. The research validated his initial idea, and the team set out to make it a reality.
The solution was a skills-based talent platform that would offer entry-level digital jobs that could be done remotely, thereby helping students earn and improve their employability.
As the platform was launched pre-COVID, Keenan’s concern was whether businesses would embrace remote work. But the pandemic changed the landscape as remote work became the new normal, a shift that has worked to Unibeez’s advantage and brought liquidity to a market desperate for digital skills.
New research from Gallup and Amazon Web Services (AWS) states that 72 percent of businesses surveyed in the United Kingdom have a vacancy for workers with digital skills.
“This is a huge challenge for the United Kingdom economy which could increase its GDP by £68 billion [US$84.4 billion] if the roles were filled. But with challenges, come opportunities. We are disrupting the traditional graduate recruitment model by bringing emerging talent with digital skills to the market in a practical and accessible way for the first time,” he says.
Challenges on the horizon
According to Keenan, one of the biggest challenges faced by businesses is the changing attitudes of people toward work. The Great Resignation, combined with pandemic-induced early-retirement decisions, resulted in a shrinking labor pool. To combat this, Unibeez set out to offer a flexible solution to businesses of all sizes by making student talent – often overlooked in the job market – visible and available for work while they study.
It was leading innovations like this, that led Santander UK to also team up with the company. Santander UK connected its business clients with university students, using the Unibeez platform.
This move toward inclusivity is not only aimed to benefit students, who would be able to build their career equity, but also businesses that can tap into a market of three million new gen Z students and graduates with digital skills.
“Now, more than ever, people are prepared to move on from a job if they’re unhappy. So, we believe it’s vital for both parties to almost effectively try before they buy.”
“The pandemic also ignited a fast track to digital transformation. Every business that exists, I would say, globally, is now tasked with finding digital solutions,” Keenan says. “As a result, there’s a huge demand for digital skills. In the United Kingdom alone, the digital skills gap stands to cost the country just under £13 billion [US$14.1 billion] over the next 12 months.”
By giving businesses the access to a talent pool that comprises young adults who have grown up in a digital landscape, Keenan is addressing the challenge and working toward bridging the gap and bringing market efficiencies.
He says retention is also a key factor in his work.
“Now, more than ever, people are prepared to move on from a job if they’re unhappy. So, we believe it’s vital for both parties to almost effectively try before they buy,” he says.
His platform, where candidates and businesses can work together on smaller projects and make informed decisions before making a permanent commitment, aims to tackle the issue of retention in today’s workplace culture.
Finer points factored in
As the digital skills gap continues to widen and it becomes increasingly crucial for candidates to be aware of the skills they possess, Unibeez devotes substantial effort into helping students identify their abilities and promote their strengths.
“We find that many people don’t really understand what skill sets they have.”
“We find that many people don’t really understand what skill sets they have,” he says. “Interestingly, if we look at the candidates and the top 25 skills that they’ve cited, 24 of those are hard skills and the first soft skill that comes in is teamwork at 26. But for hirers, it’s the other way around. They consider the soft skills to be more important.”
He notes the second-most important skill for the hirers is communication skills, with three other soft skills in the top 10.
With Unibeez, Keenan aims to identify the skills most sought by hirers – such as data analysis, social media, graphic design, content creation and growth marketing – and help students get that insight and ensure that they are matched with the right jobs.