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Mobile microwork for young volunteers

In 2013, Nominet Trust funded Task Squad to undertake further testing of the mobile app in order to take the project to scale.

Task Squad logo
Task Squad provides short-term, flexible, paid work opportunities for 18 -25 year olds.

The site uses volunteering data from vInspired and integrates volunteering activities into a users online Tasksquad CV. This allows Task Squad to vouch for young people’s credentials when they apply for paid roles, therefore strengthening the link between employment and volunteering. Business start-ups and enterprises gain access to a pool of proven candidates to assist with short-term work tasks.

Task Squad was originally conceived and developed through the Nominet Trust funded Sidekick School. With positive feedback from young people for its beta version, Task Squad secured additional funding from Nominet Trust to undertake further testing to scale as a commercial entity.

Here, the team reflect on the learning and outcomes from their journey.

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Reflections from Task Squad

Samantha Sparrow

In January 2013, Nominet Trust funded vInspired through Sidekick School, a project which aimed to help large third sector organisations create innovative, sustainable, spin-out businesses. As the UK's largest volunteering charity for young people, we knew that the biggest challenge currently facing 18-25 year olds was unemployment, with around 1 in 4 currently unemployed.

Armed with a desire to use digital to somehow bring together the worlds of volunteering and work and a kickass team at Sidekick Studios, we set about providing a solution to this tough challenge. This became Task Squad - a micro-work platform connecting young volunteers to short term, paid work opportunities.

Getting Started

Our research at vInspired had shown that young people feel uninspired by the current temporary job recruitment process. With a lack of choice, little reliability and no mobile integration in the process, young people felt cut out of the temporary work loop. However, with the rise in services such as Task Rabbit and Exec in the US (fuelled by the unpredictable economic climate), micro-work and hyper-short-term temporary jobs are a big growth area.

In order to test the idea (and before we started to code a single thing!) we spent time talking to many different types of employers to really understand their needs in this area, as well as further work with our community of young people to ascertain what sort of work they’d like. It was clear that small, nimble companies (as opposed to large corporates) were a more natural fit and the response to our idea was overwhelmingly positive. We ran both offline and online tests with different companies and young people which led to us launching our minimum viable product in April 2013.

Learning Key Lessons

Once we’d launched a beta site, the hard work began. We spent 3 busy months over the summer of 2013 testing the product further, booking paying clients and placing young people on tasks - alongside developing a business and financial plan on The Young Foundation’s Accelerator Programme. We didn’t have a full time staff team, and we faced many challenges – just like the start-ups we were trying to help.

One of the first things we learnt is that employment law isn’t developed for flexible micro-work platforms such as Task Squad. After receiving fantastic pro bono advice from Simmons & Simmons we set about developing processes to ensure we stayed legal and protected young workers – all whilst trying to figure out how to take them online. Signing contracts, producing ID and P46 forms are not conducive to a fast, mobile business.

Alongside this, we soon learnt that our MVP needed developing – fast. Once we were up and running in Beta, lots of things happened that we couldn’t predict at the start – how a bigger pool of users would impact the site, what information we needed to give young people and how we could scale quickly – and cut down our offline processes.

Big Successes

As well as challenges and things to think about, Summer 2013 brought many successes too. We were a finalist in the Google Global Impact Challenge (winning 100,000) and we received further funding from Nominet Trust of 50,000. The impact that this has had on Task Squad has been huge. Over the past 6 months we’ve been able to:

  • take our beta site to a fully functioning platform with a better user experience for young people and embedded systems and processes
  • recruit a permanent staff team with specific skills and experience from a range of sectors
  • Work with over 10 employers and post over 1000 hours on the site
  • Develop an impact framework with New Philanthropy Capital
  • Be shortlisted as a semi-finalist in the EU Social Innovation Awards.

Looking into the future

The future is looking rosy for Task Squad – and indeed the young people we are supporting into longer term work. We already have our first major success story of someone going on to get a full time job, using her experiences on Task Squad as a launching pad. We’ve had young people running events, managing customer services at start-ups and working on an exciting new app with Which? – with many more tasks in the pipeline.

Our biggest challenge now is to increase the number of employers using our site – we want to make sure that every employer has access to Task Squad’s pool of talented, motivated and ambition young people, and that young people have the opportunity they deserve to transition into longer term employment.

It’s our ambition that by 2017 Task Squad will become a self-sustaining social business providing employment opportunities for at least 13,000+ young people across the UK and generating income for investment back into vInspired’s charitable activities. It’s a hard journey – but we believe young people are worth it!

Reflections from Nominet Trust

Daniel Robinson Nominet Trust Development Research shares learning from the project.

The partnership between vInspired and Sidekick Studios is one of great interest to Nominet Trust. We know that agile and lean start-up approaches can be very effective and efficient in the early stage development of social tech ventures. In this respect socially-focused start-ups can have an advantage over larger organisations (both commercial and statutory) in being able to create, test and redesign new products and services far more quickly and creatively. However, we also know that social tech start-ups often face struggles in comparison to larger and more established organisations with issues such as capacity, building relationships with beneficiaries, developing a reputation and market presence, accessing routes to market, etc. Therefore the approach of developing start-up projects within the context of established organisations offers a way of addressing these challenges and building on the joint strengths of respective organisations.

The partnership between vInspired and Sidekick Studios enabled Task Squad to be rapidly developed  into a proven ‘minimum viable product’ mobile device-responsive online platform connecting young people possessing proven volunteering ability with short-term ‘micro-work’ temping opportunities. Task Squad are currently developing their platform in order to realise its full potential in tackling youth unemployment and transforming the structures that currently govern how employment opportunities are offered and accessed. Working through vinspired’s networks, Task Squad’s offer of employment support and micro-work opportunities, will soon be brought to the attention of over ¼ million young people.