The life-changing ASTRiiD platform helps solve the UK skills crisis by connecting skilled people with long-term conditions to flexible working opportunities.
Around 15 million people in England suffer from chronic illnesses or long-term conditions. Many of them are highly skilled and want to be in employment, but find themselves excluded from the normal 9-5 and overlooked by employers. ASTRiiD founder David Shutts was one of them. Having had a long and successful career as a Royal Naval engineer in which he rose to the rank of Officer and achieved an OBE for his services, he was diagnosed with stage four kidney cancer shortly after his 50th birthday. In between treatment and periods of recovery, he was unable to carry out a normal working day, and found that the impact on his mental wellbeing was considerable, isolated and frustrated that the wealth of skill and experience he had built up was going to waste. The rise of cloud-enabled tools have unshackled workers in many roles from the office, enabling a rise in flexible and remote working. But Shutts soon discovered that people in his position simply did not have an easy way to get connected with the opportunities for flexible or short term employment they needed, resulting in an ’invisible talent pool.’ So in September 2017 he launched ASTRiiD ("Available Skills for Training, Refreshing, Improvement, Innovation and Development") - a charity dedicated to connecting skilled people who have long-term illnesses with businesses that need an injection of talent and expertise. David sadly passed away three years after his diagnosis in May 2018, but the legacy of ASTRiiD and his commitment to helping those with chronic illnesses access employment is being carried on by David’s brother Steve. As he explains: "ASTRiiD is essentially like Match.com for sick people who want to work. We match people who’ve got long term health conditions who need flexible employment with organisations who realise they don’t need full time long term resource to do the jobs they’re looking for. They might have short term contracts, or they might just need to cover maternity leave or some extra bandwidth certain time of the year. We bring these two communities together." At the heart of ASTRiiD is a bespoke software platform built on Salesforce technology. As part of cloud platform Salesforce’s voluntary scheme, staff pledge to lend 1% of their time towards charitable causes, giving as much as 56 paid hours a year to lend towards charitable projects. David was able to leverage this voluntary service time through lifelong friend and ex-Navy colleague Simon Short, now EVP of Customer Success and Growth for Salesforce EMEA. The challenge of building the ASTRiiD platform was given to Salesforce team members on a pro bono basis - the first time a whole new charity had been created as a result of the scheme.
Once candidates sign up (for free) to the platform, Steve says: "It’s all about what you can do, not what you can’t." Candidates answer a number of questions in a drop-down menu, including their location, last level of educational attainment, sector and skills, and crucially how far they’re able to travel to work and how many hours they’re able to work in a week or month. They can also add information such as their LinkedIn profile and CV.
"Some candidates are able to work just one or two days work a month, whereas others can happily work 30 hours a week in an almost full time role," says Steve, "but the key to this is that at various stages you’re asked to confirm and self verify that you have got a health condition - it’s not about a lifestyle choice." On the other side, employers register their business and create a role in their own dashboard. Candidates are immediately matched to roles that fit their profile, with different degrees of fit from excellent to fair. It is only when both indicate an interest in each other that their details are revealed. "We offer ability for all candidates to remain anonymous until such time as they are happy for their details to be shared," says Steve. "Both indicate an interest in each other and then the two sides my brothers perspective was very clear - he did not want a situation where a company starts to bombard a candidate with demands for conversations and interviews that they may not be ready for. Individuals themselves have to be ready to contacted." Because of this, the backend system is complex and involves "quite a lot of handshaking and an awful lot of friction," says Steve: "We are still operating on the system as defined by my brother. He was a naval mechanical engineer, not a digital marketer. We’re working on in order to improving the number of matches we make and connections we derive from it, so that we can reduce that friction as far as possible. In the end, we want a situation where many more of our candidates say I’m happy for my details to be shared - that’s the aim."
The charity is run mostly by a team of volunteers, relying on fundraising and social media, along with corporate sponsors such as Salesforce. "We had rather niavely thought donations we recieve would be enough to keep alfoat," says Steve. "Without corporate funding from people like Salesforce and also things like fundraising quizzes, marathons and table football games, we wouldn’t have enough funding to do what we need to do, which is to be out on social media and out in the press looking to tell our story and recruit people to the platform." The word of mouth approach is working - the charity recently won Charity of the Year at the Recruiter Awards, and shortlisted for Best Use of Technology in the Charity Times Awards. Ultimately, the platform is about far more than just providing people with the employment they need to make a living. While there is a wealth of collective experience represented on ASTRiiD, there have been a number of people for whom ASTRiiD has provided their first ever job. The sense of pride, achievement and self-confidence that candidates gain from being a valued member of the working world is impossible to put a price on.