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Sat 13 Apr 2019 10:20 AM

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Entrepreneur of the Week: Founder, CEO of Oliv, Jean-Michel Gauthier

He's tackling youth unemployment in MENA with the first career platform for the young.

Entrepreneur of the Week: Founder, CEO of Oliv, Jean-Michel Gauthier

What drove the decision to launch Oliv?

When I first returned to the UAE in 2012 from studying in the UK, I worked for a local pharmaceutical distributor and became involved in HR and hiring processes. Through that experience, it became obvious to me there was a gap in the market where hiring graduates was concerned and, being a recent graduate myself, it piqued my interest. Looking into it further, I was shocked by the high rate of youth unemployment in the region, and felt compelled to help address it. It was the realisation that through technology, we could address such an important social issue.

My motivation hasn’t changed - people still seriously underestimate the impact of this issue, and we are far from having tackled it. At scale, youth unemployment has the potential to cripple economies; increasing costs and reducing productivity and GDP.  It is our vision to defeat youth unemployment by providing the world’s first career platform experience built from the ground up with young people in mind. By empowering the underrepresented and undervalued youth, we can make positive and powerful impacts on sustainability, innovation, human rights and even global security.

Where does the name come from?

We wanted to capture the story of the journey that the youth embark on. We started to look into stories of growth. And that’s when we discovered how olive trees grew.

Young olive trees need taking care of. They are brittle, but have tremendous potential. With the right foundation and nourishment, they grow and flourish for centuries, sometimes a millennia.

That’s the way we like to think about the youth. With a little support in the right direction, they can, and will grow, to change the world for the better.

Olive trees and their branches are also internationally recognised as a symbol of peace and hope — from the greatest gift given by Mount Olympus, to the story of Noah’s ark and its place today on the flag of the UN.

What is your business model?

Our platform gives employers access to the region’s top emerging talent in a single place, without having to resort to creating networks amongst universities or sifting through hundreds of irrelevant applications from job boards.

Our services vary based on an employer’s objectives. On the platform, we earn revenue through job posts and search access to our screened community. We also work on technology projects for government agencies, building world-class internship and graduate programs to help businesses get the most out of talent pipelines, staff flagship events in the region, and craft employer branding assets for companies looking to attract top talent.

Why should fresh graduates use Oliv as opposed to other recruitment platforms?

Firstly, at a very basic level, Oliv is the only careers site built with youth in mind; all other recruitment sites cover the full spectrum of hiring and placing talent.

The most important reason though is that Oliv is so much more than just a careers site. Your average jobsite literally just posts the job advert and takes applications, but at Oliv, we support applicants every step of the way, with tailored resources and personalised assistance for them.

At scale, youth unemployment has the potential to cripple economies; increasing costs and reducing productivity and GDP

Through the Oliv Academy, we provide a whole range of free, early career resources based on learnings from thousands of placements and recent studies to help jobseekers have the best chance. And though our dedicated Success Team, which comprises experienced recruiters, we proactively match jobseekers to the right jobs, all with a personal touch.

We also have the best opportunities. Over 1,500 leading businesses from startups and regional businesses such as Careem and Emaar, to global titans such as Turner and Johnson & Johnson, use Oliv to find top emerging talent and we facilitate over 1,000 interviews every month.  So, if you’re a graduate looking for your career launching role, Oliv really is the only place to look.

Finally, because Oliv has a screened community, employers prefer hiring through Oliv to other avenues. Over 70 percent of jobs posted on Oliv are filled via the platform; that’s more than three times higher than other job sites according to Jobvite.

You also focus on internships. How important are they, and do you see a lack of graduates in the region opting for internships?

Internships are critical to bridging the gap between education and the workplace, and are heavily encouraged by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in order to build sustainable labour economies. While the idea of internships in the region are very much still in its infancy, it’s rapidly evolving.

What about companies you work with – do they take internships/interns seriously?

Absolutely. Companies could always go out there and hire interns via their networks (employees siblings, nephews/nieces, etc.), but the companies that work with Oliv are investing in hiring top talent that can bring in tons of value to the company from an incredibly diverse community. Which is why over 90 percent of internships on Oliv are paid and create incredibly rewarding experiences for students and recent grads.

What is the impact that Oliv has had on regional unemployment so far?

To date, Oliv has made over 5,000 placements, including both internships and full-time graduate jobs.

Although in terms of the wider unemployment problem across the region, this is only a small dent. We are incredibly proud we have helped over 5,000 young people launch their careers locally rather than pursuing opportunities elsewhere or still being part of that statistic.

With our recent closing of $2m in series A funding, we’ll be doubling down on our efforts to maximise our impact by diversifying our services, improving our technology and expanding our reach geographically.

Do you see a skills gap in the market? Please explain.

At every generational shift, skill gaps are accelerated because of the compounding impact of improvements in technology. The World Economic Forum predicts that 65 percent of today’s primary school students will enter the workforce in entirely new careers that do not yet exist and just recently a survey (by Schneider Electric) found that 83 percent of regional employers need leaders with digital skills to meet nationwide transformation and sustainability goals.

The world’s best companies invest in building talent pipelines early to solve major challenges for talent requirements by developing junior staff’s skills relevant to their company’s future.

Do you focus purely on youth? Why or why not?

Youth unemployment in the MENA region is a serious issue; almost one in three youths (31 percent) in the region is out of work, which is the highest level in recorded history and twice the global average, and graduates are making up nearly 30 percent of the entire unemployment pool. That is why Oliv’s mission is to address the unemployment rate among young people in MENA by using technology to connect young jobseekers with companies looking for talent.

The team at Oliv facilitate over 1,000 interviews every month

There are plenty of recruitment sites and companies focussing on experienced hires, so that’s not a market we have ever considered exploring - our focus has, and will always be, on supporting youth.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re currently facing with Oliv and how will you tackle them?

Our biggest challenge is how to get our placement number to 100,000, and then one day, to 1,000,000 placements.

On a more day-to-day level, one of our biggest challenges is adapting our product for employers in very different industries and across different geographies, where hiring practices and regulations vary.

Like many tech companies, we solve problems as we go. We speak to our users and build practical solutions which are improved based on further feedback. Our core product team is small and agile, which allows us to be hyper responsive in building customer-centered products, and shipping updates on a weekly basis.

What are your expansion plans for Oliv?

Oliv has a long term vision to eventually become the leading global platform connecting youth and employers. The first step is to further its reach in the MENA region, incorporating more languages and countries into the platform. Currently we have a presence in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and we are targeting expansion into the rest of the GCC and potentially South-East Asia within the year.

What is your vision for Oliv and what do you see it growing into?

Within the next five years, we want to create hundreds of thousands of experiential learning opportunities for the youth across the globe. Yes, this is about defeating youth unemployment, but it’s also about helping young people discover their best suited - and happiest - career path, and making that process way easier than ever before.

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