With Jobiri, the Sponchioni brothers have created an artificial intelligence-based digital career advisor, helping job seekers take a 21st-century approach to the labour market 

By Chrisl Welsch

Claudio and Roberto Sponchioni, brothers from Milan, came up with the idea for their social enterprise four years ago after facing the same problem from different angles.

Roberto was working in Dublin in information technology, and a friend asked him if he could help him with his job search. Roberto was surprised at how limited the options were online for helping his friend. There wasn’t an easy, systematic way to match his friend’s skills with what jobs might be available, nor was there a way to get a clear picture of the job market in the larger sense.

At the time, his brother Claudio was working for one of the largest European staffing firms as a project manager in Milan. And from his side of the issue — working on labour policy projects aimed at supporting ways for job seekers to get hired — he was also seeing a big gap in the market.

Together they started talking about creating an online toolbox that would help both job seekers, the institutions that serve them, and companies looking for employees. After two years of research, working nights and weekends, the result was Jobiri, a digital career advisor that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help job seekers and employers make a good match.

“Right now the situation is very traditional,” Claudio said on a sunny summer afternoon in Jobiri’s workspace in central Milan. If you’re looking for a job and you need support, “you have to sit across from a real person who is supposed to tell you what to do, or if you do it by yourself there is a high risk that you make mistakes, waste time and lengthen the job search.” But the brothers realised that model was being overwhelmed by rising levels of demand.

 “We understood there was an opportunity. … Right now people have to change jobs seven to 10 times in their lifetime,” he said. “The career support institutions — schools, staffing firms, employment centres — aren’t able to support all those people physically.”

The platform that the Sponchioni brothers built is a one-stop shop for job hunters, who pay a small monthly fee for access to the website or gain access for free through one of the institutions that serve them. In one place, job seekers can get career coaching, advice, and find job opportunities.

© Jobiri

“What we’re offering is more than a simple sum of services,” Claudio said. “It’s a multiplier of knowledge, it’s a multiplier of ideas, a multiplier of technology.” The more people who use Jobiri, the more effective it becomes through the use of machine learning.

A digital career counsellor guides the seeker through the process of becoming an ideal candidate. Job hunters can record themselves during a rehearsal interview and get feedback on how to present themselves in the most positive light, on everything from eye contact to the content of their answers. They automatically get help writing cover letters and a CV that will catch the eye of a future boss. They get advice on skills they could add to improve their potential value to an employer.

“Times change and you need to adapt as well,” Roberto said, citing his own field as an
example. “A while ago there were a lot of requests for PHP developers — now with machine learning and data analytics there is a need for Python and R developers.”

Jobiri has grown quickly in Italy, where several institutions have adopted the platform as an aid to their career placement offices.

One of the largest is the CIOFS (the Italian Centre for Women’s Salesian Works), a non-profit association that represents about 60 vocational training centres that reach more than 16,000 trainees across Italy each year.

Sister Angela Elicio is the national president of the CIOFS. She said that Jobiri helps the association’s counsellors organise their data on both its trainees and the job market, bringing efficiency to the process.

Jobiri’s first client was the Catholic University of Milan. The director of the career office there is Roberto Reggiani, who is also an advocate of Jobiri.

 “Jobiri is very helpful, because people who are looking for a job are lacking in awareness of their talents, skills, and limitations,” he said. He said that Jobiri has increased the office’s ability to reach students. The career office estimated that Jobiri had provided 4,000 hours of counselling to its students last year, saving much valuable time for its busy career counsellors.

Maria Carmen Russo, head of employment services with the Youth Employment Centre of Cremona, a city and commune in Northern Italy, said that she had worked with Jobiri on a customised version of the platform for her office, and that the students were finding it very helpful. “The language used is very immediate and appropriate to the target of young people,” she said. “I really like the part dedicated to the tutorials which, in addition to helping young people understand the importance of their CV, gives suggestions and strategies.”

Claudio said that Jobiri had carried out a customer satisfaction survey of about 350 users last year that found that 75 per cent had found a job within 1.4 months of using Jobiri, a substantial improvement over the averages in Italy, which range from four to eight months.

Roberto added that the next step for Jobiri is an improved website and a new focus on helping employers find the right candidates. The new website would “gamify” the work of the jobseekers, to make the process more fun.

Both Claudio and Roberto are committed to the idea of helping others to enter the workforce and find their purpose in life.

“Right now it’s kind of difficult to find a job,” Claudio said. “But not everyone has the right support to enter the job market. It’s our dream to make sure everyone has that support, and a way toward a better life.”