Bridging the education to employment gap


Mark Lane finds out how a new online platform – globalbridge – is transforming how young people present themselves to employers, in conversation with its founder, Ben Mason



The recruitment process is an extremely challenging task, any growing company and even some of the biggest names in business will tell you. You might get dozens of applicants for your latest job posting, but how many of them will be of the
calibre you are really looking for?

It is, in many ways, a lottery. Anecdotal evidence suggests that interviewees are very often not how you envisaged on the basis of their application form. You might have somebody who looks the ideal fit on paper, with faultless qualifications, but whose personality is far removed from the right fit for your organisation. Or you might have somebody who looks poor in written form, but who has the skills that will ensure they will be a success; in this way, the restrictive nature of the traditional application has created a huge barrier that prevents talent from connecting with opportunity.

Indeed, the latter of these two candidates might not even make it to the interview room – they are quickly ruled out in the applicant sifting process on the basis of unimpressive grades. This means, once again, both employer and candidate lose out.

This situation, of course, is even more pronounced for young people embarking on their working life from university, college or school and whom, in terms of what they can put down on paper, are dependent almost entirely on a set of grades.

Surely there has to be a better way? Ben Mason, founder of rapidly-growing North East business, globalbridge, thought so – and he decided to create an enterprise to do something about it.

His answer is an online platform called globalbridge, which has been described as a kind of a hybrid of Linkedin and Facebook for students. In a nutshell, it helps young people more effectively evidence and showcase their talents to would-be employers, universities and other relevant organisations.

Its potential has already been recognised in Ben’s appearance in this year’s The Sunday Times Maserati top 100 entrepreneurs, globalbridge’s listing at number four in this year’s North East Tech 50 and its appearance on Dynamo’s shortlist in the Tech For Good category.

Like all the best ideas, the globalbridge platform’s genius is in its simplicity and the question I had after interviewing Ben – and which readers may also find themselves asking having read this article – was, why hasn’t this kind of thing been done before?

He founded globalbridge after having been a teacher for 16 years and seeing at first-hand how, in his words, “the abilities of enthusiastic, talented and motivated young people are distilled by the education system into a list of grades”.

Ben, whose previous role was as director of sport at Durham School, takes up the story: “I was often asked by elite universities to identify talented rugby players prior to the UCAS process. In turn, students would ask me to help them create highlights videos to demonstrate their talent to such universities. It was impossible to replicate this for every individual student and there were not enough hours in the day! When colleagues shared the same experiences, across academic and creative subjects, I knew there had to be a better way.”

Ben’s logic was that the work he had done helping young people evidence their talents to universities could feasibly be scaled up, in the process creating a win-win scenario – for students, for business, and for the broader education system.

So how does it work? Essentially, globalbridge is a platform that allows young people to showcase their personality, talent, qualifications and experience. It is not a traditional social networking platform in the sense that students cannot see each other, but they can use the platform to connect with opportunities in education, employment and training in a safe and secure way.

“This is a safety feature so that young people are able to network and grow, but they are very much protected by, and can be guided by, their school,” Ben explains. “It also keeps them focused on their own journey not comparing themselves to others. It’s about helping each young person to fulfil their potential, by giving them all the information and contacts and links for carving out their own future.”

He continues: “globalbridge has several key stakeholders, including parents, schools and teachers, but in essence, allows subscribing employers to present opportunities to a database of young people, and allows young people to showcase their talents, abilities and academic achievements. Our pilot project has focused on schools in the North East.

“While each student has a profile and can upload ‘rich’ content – a recording of a piano recital, for example, or video of
a performance with the school’s drama society – globalbridge is not a social media platform in the popular sense. It has a range of safeguards to prevent people who pose as employers for the wrong reasons from contacting students. It is a safe space that helps schools meet the government’s Gatsby benchmarks on careers guidance.”

Ben says that at present, his student- facing team are all ex-teachers which means they are well placed to deliver assemblies and sessions to support the young people, and to “inspire and challenge them on to the next step”. “We go into schools to initiate the platform, get young people on board, and to show them how to set up their profiles and present themselves to the world of higher education and work,” he says. “We can guide them through the initial set up, but also do coaching sessions and professional development to staff on different topics such as getting the best out of your students, showcasing talent, apprenticeships and how to find them, developing skills, etc. Part of this process can also be automated which will help as we scale.”

Business has been quick to sit up and take notice. Some of the most significant employers in the North East are already
working with globalbridge, including Sage Group, the NHS Business Service Authority (NHSBSA), GSK, NBS, Virgin Money, Muckle LLP and Engie.

In the education sector, Ben and his team are currently working with over 60 schools and colleges from across the North East and have a number of educational establishments who have recently signed up on multi-year development partner agreements including Heriot Watt University, Tyne Coast College Group, North East Futures UTC, Laidlaw Trust (Excelsior Academy & Academy 360), Acklam Grange School, Park View School, Emmanuel College, Bede Academy, Middlesbrough College and Benfield School.

Ben says: “We helped the NHSBSA to place opportunities within their organisation before young people from 12 schools in Newcastle, including four in tough parts of the city. Within 48 hours of them being on the platform, NHSBSA were able to connect with students interested in apprenticeships and internships, and we are continuing to replicate this success across other regions. From the NHSBSA reports, globalbridge has helped facilitate over 2,000 engagements with young people in the North East.”

These are impressive figures, which offer just a hint at the huge potential of globalbridge. For sure, the North East has a well-established recruitment industry but this undoubtedly has its limitations and – let’s be honest – it does not seem to have been able to do much to address the serious ‘brain-drain’ problem we have in the region. This sees thousands of graduates leave the North East each year having completed their university studies.

The reason, no doubt, is that they believe other regions offer a better bet in terms of employment prospects. But do they? Ben says: “The problem is that employers need better ways in which they can identify future talent early before it leaves. We have to give people a reason to stay and show them the opportunities available.”

Ben highlights that these days the region has a wealth of opportunities in futuristic and digital industries. We are a global leader in areas such as chemical processing, life sciences and renewables and, as such, there are fantastic opportunities available for school leavers and graduates. But are they aware of them? “It’s about digitally connecting the various networks – young people, industry, and education,” says Ben.

He actually believes apprenticeships perhaps represent the area where globalbridge can have the greatest impact. He explains: “The absence of a structured pathway to connect young people and businesses is a critical weakness, leaving billions of pounds collected by the government’s Apprenticeship Levy unspent. globalbridge could solve the problem at a stroke.

“On this front, I was able recently to make our case in Westminster, before the All Party Parliamentary Group on Apprenticeships, co-chaired by Catherine McKinnell MP, the member for Newcastle Upon Tyne North”.

This led to an invitation to present in the House of Lords on the subject of technological advances to help identify early talent and skills in education.

Getting in front of policy makers in this way, especially for such young company, is a real coup for the business and certainly bodes well for the future.

Ben points out an interesting statistic. Research from the Education and Employers Taskforce shows that a young person who has four or more meaningful encounters with an employer is 86 per cent less likely to be unemployed or not in education or training and can earn up to 22 per cent more during their career. It serves to emphasise the fact that engagement is so often the missing piece of the jigsaw for the business community and would-be employees.

While business is a key target market – in this regard, Ben emphasises how much support he has been given by North East England Chamber and its chief executive James Ramsbotham in reaching out to the region’s major employers – globalbridge is also focusing very much on the education sector.

He explains: “Universities have many of the same needs as businesses; they want to engage with and attract the brightest and the best and put these onto a pathway into their institution – something globalbridge can offer through a variety of means. Universities are also becoming increasingly more interested in diversity and the ‘whole student’ and globalbridge provides them with the extra information that supports the traditional application routes.”

With the removal of AS levels in the majority of schools and colleges, universities no longer have a mid-point benchmark and therefore have even less visibility of student potential. Universities engage with young people through careers fairs and school presentations in order to showcase their course opportunities.

Ben continues: “Not every school or college can be visited every year, and whilst this is the case, equality of opportunity will be questioned. globalbridge looks to address this for universities enabling them to connect with young people from across all backgrounds. In return, this presents a huge opportunity for the young person to see what their future could look like. One way to raise the aspirations of our young people is to show them what is available and to give them visibility of pathways that make it possible.”

Finally, we come to the issue of funding and finance. In terms of its progression, Ben says globalbridge has been through three funding rounds, the last two of which were over-subscribed.

The great news, as well, is that this is a bonafide home-grown success story – a business created in the North East and funded by the North East investment community.

While nobody at the business is getting carried away, Ben is confident they have tapped into a market of massive potential. The business has focused on the North East region to begin with but national expansion is on the cards – it already has some traction in several other UK regions – and this model would undoubtedly be relevant at a global level. “But we have taken a decision to rein any international dimension back – for now,” says Ben.

He concludes: “Our mission is to provide an equality of opportunity for young people and to level the playing field. We know the market we are in and we have no doubt that somebody is going to go big with a model like this – so why shouldn’t it be us?”

If you are an employer who not only wants to build a skilled workforce, but wants to raise the aspirations of young people across the North East, ensuring they are more engaged and informed about the opportunities available to them, why not connect with globalbridge? Find out more at:

Employers on the platform

The globalbridge platform allows employers to have a profile page which they can customise and advertise pathways into their industry/company etc. This is to show young people what opportunities are available, which they might not have known exist.

For example, a young person might look at Costa and sees someone selling coffee. However, it might actually be the case that they are looking for software developers, accountants, HR and marketing specialists etc. Essentially, employers and universities can identify skills that match their requirements and then notify young people of their opportunities.

Using the digital engagement platform on globalbridge, employers can ensure young people are informed and engaged whilst connecting with students who match the skills they require, regardless
of socioeconomic background.