Meet the company shaking up the labour market through language learning

Chatterbox is taking on the issue of frictional unemployment by changing the labour market as we know it.

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Written by HYER NEWSROOM

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Founded in 2016 by Mursal Hedayat, the company builds technology that brings innovative companies closer to diverse pools of talent, while employing marginalised people in need of work to teach their native language. Chatterbox has already got lots of people talking, garnering interest from the likes of the Guardian and the BBC, as a social innovation capable of radically and permanently tipping the scales toward a more just global economy.

 

Frictional unemployment is an often neglected topic, indeed the term itself may be unfamiliar to many. In layman’s terms, it refers to people who have taken time out of work or, for various reasons, have left the labour market.

 

While some people in this scenario may find it relatively easy to re-enter, there are marginalised groups for whom this can be difficult, or even impossible. For example, if you are a refugee displaced from your local labour market, you face huge obstacles; from your existing networks being elsewhere, to having to find your feet in a brand new country.

 

This is a notoriously difficult type of frictional unemployment to solve, and the labour market is traditionally really bad at reintegrating groups such as refugees, women returning from having children, or older workers who have been displaced. All face a great deal of discrimination when trying to re-enter the world of work. The labour market today is more unstable than ever.

 

Factor in historic levels of forced displacement, industrial disruption, and the increased labour market participation of women, and we’re left with a huge problem that is not being adequately resolved by even the most advanced governments.

Interview with Chatterbox Founder & CEO, Mursal Hedayat

Chatterbox founder and CEO Mursal Hedayat believes this is where tech has a solution, and can in fact be THE solution. There is a booming online industry for jobseekers and companies alike, with online jobs groaning for talent. This is an opportunity that Chatterbox connects with the social issue of the marginalisation of certain groups. Five years ago, when Mursal started Chatterbox, most people weren’t even aware of the problem.

 

When she first pitched the idea at a startup incubator, she was told there weren’t enough refugees in the world with the skills to work in the online language learning space, and that as a business it wouldn’t be scalable. Yet the company’s success is clearly demonstrating this isn’t the case.

 

The issue is that to most people outside of these communities, or those who aren’t directly impacted or touched by the problem, it’s an invisible one. Many of us are used to speaking to an Uber driver, for example, learning he was perhaps previously a government official back in Afghanistan and then going about the rest of our day not sparing him another thought. As the child of refugees herself however, having arrived in the UK aged 3, Mursal understood this problem intimately. 

“I remember as a wet behind the ears graduate realising all these major companies wanted to hire me, a novice with no real work skills, but not my mum; a trained civil engineer who had spent the last decade leading her industry, even representing Afghanistan at the UN women’s conference.

And just thinking there was something really wrong with this hiring mentality.”

Mursal Hedayat, Founder & CEO

When media coverage of the 2016 refugee crisis was reaching its peak, Mursal carried this insight forward to help a generation of refugees fleeing Syria. Fast forward to the current  Ukrainian crisis, and only now are we starting to see a growing realisation that refugees are talented and skilled, and can fill gaps in the labour market and economy.

 

Society is catching up on to the fact that there is a huge talent shortage in some industries, and that refugees and other “displaced professionals” - meaning people who are locked out of the economy due to life circumstances - can be a part of the solution. A fact that Mursal has known her whole life.

At a high level, Chatterbox seeks to fill the current gaps when it comes to providing work for people who have been out of the labour market a long time and want to get back in – particularly those who are highly skilled.

 

It may sound counterintuitive to say that if you are a refugee with an advanced degree it is harder to find work, but it actually is much harder to find work suited to your skill level. It’s far easier to place someone in a low skill job than to match high skill levels in a future career.

 

There are multiple companies and businesses dedicated to helping various people who don’t really have a problem finding work to adapt to finding jobs in the “fourth industrial revolution” - but very few people who have taken an explicit look at this segment of the job-seeking population.

 

It’s estimated there are about 40 million people in OECD countries alone who have degrees and are long-term unemployed and underemployed. This is a near forgotten segment of the job-seeking community, and there are many people who have just accepted it as a sad fact of life that sometimes, despite your talents, you end up unemployed or working in a low-skilled job that’s way below your aspirations.

This was a key gap which Chatterbox identified. Many of these types of jobseekers either faced being pushed into low-skilled work and wasting their prior experience, or being out of work for months or even years, having to upskill or retrain so as to seek longer term skills, jobs or careers.

 

Chatterbox wanted to provide immediately accessible, highly skilled work which, instead of reducing people’s prospects, would increase their employability. Many refugees prior to Chatterbox were breaking back into the world of work via their language skills, as teachers, interpreters, and translators. So Mursal simply observed this, and tried to make it scalable through technology.

 

Chatterbox is immensely proud to have helped refugees and other marginalised groups complete degrees alongside working for them - building their confidence, skills, and aspirations, all while earning an income. Plans for the future look just as bright, as Chatterbox hopes to take the technology a step further.

 

As well as providing immediately accessible work as an online language coach, they want to match Chatterbox talent with opportunities off the platform. By directing their community to free or fully paid for learning services, or other employment possibilities, Chatterbox hopes to turn into an overall talent platform, where the world’s most marginalised talent can find their next career online.

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Article Details

  Feature with:           Chatterbox

Mursal Hedayat, Founder & CEO

Written by Sophie Omer-McWalter on the Hyer Team

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