Podcast | Connecting Forward-thinking Employers With Gen Z Talent – Esther O’Callaghan

April 28, 2021
June 26, 2023

How difficult do you think it is for young people leaving education to find employment? Educators don’t want to see the students they’ve spent so long developing facing unemployment and employers really need good entry-level talent to solve skill shortages.

All of these factors created a perfect storm for Esther O’Callaghan to start Hundo, an award-winning platform that connects forward-thinking employers with Gen Z talent.

In this episode, Esther talks us through creating a business that solves a social issue she’s truly passionate about, increasing entry-level talent and how that can help improve diversity, and fixing flaws in the academic system to get young people into positions they love.

We also discussed how Esther prepared for that first triathlon from scratch and getting large corporations to take interest in entry-level talent.

Watch the episode

Listen to the episode

Running Order

0:00 > Introduction
1:27 > How Esther found her purpose for helping young people.
7:57 > Working with young people and the influence of parenting.
10:11 > The origins of Hundo.
13:47 > Increasing entry level talent and improving diversity.
17:20 > Are large corporations receptive to entry level talent ideas?
19:02 > Changing the narrative around backgrounds and hiring young talent.
24.00 > Fixing flaws in the academic system to help people progress.
28.05 > How Hundo’s Kickstart scheme helps young people gain experience.
30:24 > How Esther prepared for her first triathlon in such a short time.
34.31 > How to tackle new things and maintain your curiosity.
41:00 > Quickfire questions.

Four key takeaways from this episode

What led Esther to start Hundo and their purpose to get young people into employment

Well, the process of young people leaving education and trying to find a job was too inefficient! Alongside her Hundo Co-Founder Piers, they just thought there had to be a better way – educators don’t want to see the young people they’ve worked with drop off and end up at the Job Centre, and employers really need entry level talent to solve skills shortages and gender diversity issues. It created a perfect storm where she could put her concern for that social cause into a business idea that would help solve it.

It had to be a solution designed with the young person at its heart but also lead employers to say ‘yes I need that’ and not because they feel sorry for them but because they really need entry level skills. Hundo can be that bridge between education and employers, encouraging them to think about entry level talent far earlier. That not only helps them build a more diverse pool of talent but it benefits every level of the organisation – just think where that talent will be in a few years.

Changing the narrative around what’s possible

There’s bias to be tackled on both sides, as young people might have an opinion about certain types of employers and vice versa. Language and narrative are two great tools to fix that! Esther gave us the example of using terms like ‘socio-economic disadvantage’ and how it’s perhaps better to ditch that label and talk a bit more frankly in terms of the poverty and child poverty that cause youth unemployment.

If someone has faced that type of background or situation, it will have given them the skills and resilience that mean simply judging them on academic results is not enough.

Addressing the failures of academia in helping young talent

The education system is difficult. It values academia so highly and it’s a pretty rigid system in its current guise. Although there are great educators within it and they can make all the difference, we have to stop judging everything on this one metric.

There’s not much in the system around entrepreneurial skills or creating awareness of the full scope of available careers, and that’s where Hundo comes in. They partner with colleges to help people understand the plethora of jobs out there, mostly in the SME space. By bringing colleges and employers together on Hundo to share learning and knowledge, young people can access both sides, see which jobs, industries and employers exist and which are relevant to the path they might choose.

How to tackle new things and maintain curiosity

Esther doesn’t follow a set formula but she credits stubbornness, curiosity and hard work with helping her get there. Her advice is to stop benchmarking yourself against other people and focus on what you enjoy and what’s important to you personally.

No matter how many Instagram posts you see about getting up at 5 AM to help hone your talents, remember you can just as easily pick up a skill on your own schedule. When you take the first step, things get easier and continue to do so the more you do it. And if something doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter – there’s no guarantees that anything will work anyway and you won’t know until you try…

How to connect

Find Esther on LinkedIn.

Find Hundo on LinkedIn and their website.

Find Nelson on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Find HowNow on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram.

Where to subscribe

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[00:00:00] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:00:00] Work is changing. The question is, are you? Welcome to 99 Problems But Work Ain’t One, the new podcast series from HowNow that will help you prepare for the fast-changing world of work. I’m your host Nelson Sivalingam, and I’ll be talking to disruptive startups, contrarian thinkers, global leaders, and real game changes and asking them the burning questions about the challenges we face at work from scaling cultures and adopting technology.

[00:00:28] To improving wellbeing and building fast learning organisations that are prepared for the future of work. We get the insights, tactics, and actionable nuggets of knowledge to put to work. How does someone go from running a record shop to becoming a qualified triathlon coach and launching a tech platform that helps young people get into employment?

[00:00:48] All while winning an OBE along the way. I’m exhausted just reading that out. Only Esther O’Callaghan founder of Hundo can help us answer this question. So, I’m thrilled to say that she joins [00:01:00] us for this week’s episode of 99 Problems. From increasing entry level talent and how that can help diversity, to fixing flaws in the academic systems to

[00:01:09] Getting more young people into positions they love, we covered a lot in this episode, including how Esther prepared for that first triathlon from scratch and getting large corporations to take interest in entry level talent. So, let’s get into this amazing conversation with Esther.  

[00:01:33] Esther, Welcome to the show. There is a bunch of stuff I want to cover with you because we’ve been meaning to have this chat for a while. I said in the kind of introduction to you. You’ve had a very colorful, varied career, journey, life – from the record store to getting an OBE. And the question I want to start with is how do you decide [00:02:00] what to do next?

[00:02:01] Like in general, in your career, in life, when you’re thinking about what to do next? How do you decide?  

[00:02:08] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:02:08] I think it’s only recently, like over the last few years where it’s become a more defined choice. I’d say until now, um, I’ve done things that I’m interested in and it’s usually related to causes that I care about and think are.

[00:02:30] Essential and need supporting. And I think I’ve reached a point now where my purpose is very defined. And it kind of always has been, it’s always been about youth and employment. Actually. It’s always been about young people. I just kept sort of trying to divert away from it.

[00:02:48] Because I’m like going, it’s really hard. And sometimes it’s really depressing. Sometimes it’s really frustrating and sometimes it doesn’t work and now I’ve just given in and gone. This is clearly what I’m built to do. So, [00:03:00] and actually accepting that instead of just like going off on a tangent is, yeah, it’s better  

[00:03:06] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:03:06] When did you realise that was your purpose?

[00:03:08] You know, you said you’ve tried a few times, you veer off and it’s almost that thing that keeps bringing you back from what point did that start and why?

[00:03:18] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:03:18] I never liked being sort of put in a box, you know, in terms of people saying

[00:03:28] you do this thing because you’re like this. And, and I think because I was really young when I left school, I was 16 and went to work. And I think by the time I’d hit 22/23, I was in sort of quite senior positions on the National Big Lottery Fund Board, you know, and, and so obviously, because I was super young, I sort of tried to fit in that “Oh, I’m on a national board, you know, government, therefore I need to like behave in this particular way.”

[00:03:58] That just really isn’t me. And I [00:04:00] think I sort of. Unconsciously rebelled against it by then deejaying at the same time and having a record shop. And the thing is, I think just being young, to be honest, you’re still figuring out who you are. And then sort of being put in these sort of in these places.

[00:04:20] And, um, whereas now of course, I’m much older and I just feel it’s much easier to say actually I still do all these things. Um, but I don’t really feel like I have to justify why anymore. And so I think definitely again, being older has helped with that. Um, and, and sort of just finally honing in on, if I actually commit to this and see it through, um, the possibility of how many young people we can help.

[00:04:50] Um, I think that’s where it just sort of really settles in me now and gives me a grounding of going see this through now, you know, that you’ve actually got something.

[00:05:02] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:05:02] I love that. And before we come to talking about Hundo and what you’re doing here, you do a lot of work with young people, and that’s what we’re going to talk about now as well.

[00:05:12] But. That kind of empathy of what life was like when you were that age. Right. How much of that do you, I guess, remember, and still go back to, and how much of your experience as a young person has kind of driven what you’re doing today?

[00:05:30] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:05:30] Yeah. I find it easy to remember what things were like.

[00:05:37] and I think it’s what, it’s what drives me. You know, it’s kind of that I remember being 14, 15, and the pressure of exams and coursework and hormones, and people used to say this is the best time of your life. And I was like, I flipping hope not.

[00:05:57] Like, it just seems to me that is a [00:06:00] stupid thing to say to a young person. It’s like an, is this as good as it gets? Wow. No, thank you to the rest of life and, and I guess I’ve tried really hard not to make it all about me, if that makes sense. Because actually you can experience things, you know, I’ve experienced a lot of really bad stuff as a kid, you know, some pretty brutal times.

[00:06:27] Um, but I think I’ve tried not to build the whole business around that. it’s almost going. Yeah, I have a deep empathy and a deep care for people in general actually, you know, but particularly for young people, because young people don’t get to choose the situations. I think when we become adults, we get choices.

[00:06:48] And then up to us. Whereas a lot of choices are removed from young people and a lot of decisions are inflicted on them. And I always really struggled with that as a young person. Um, and as an adult, I [00:07:00] just fundamentally don’t agree with it, you know, and as a parent, you know, I’ve tried to not be a parent.

[00:07:06] I’ve tried to be an ally, you know, and, and a friend and a mentor, and so I’ve seen it on both sides. Um, but for me, it was much more around going. Where I start and finish always is going, yes, there’s my life. There’s my story. But what young people are going through now, um, and what they’re facing and the odds are stacked against them.

[00:07:27] For me, it’s about, it’s so much more about them now. Um but certainly being able to. Yeah, I think the experience helps. Because I think if you’ve never experienced something it’s really hard. If you’ve not had mental health issues, if you’ve not battled with depression, you know, if you’ve not grown up in poverty, it can be quite difficult to conceptualize that.

[00:07:48] That’s why that would be difficult and challenging. So, I feel quite grateful for that. Um, didn’t at the time but I do now,  

[00:07:57] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:07:57] I was speaking to a few friends [00:08:00] who’ve recently had children and I find when you’re, um, raising kids or working with young people, it’s almost. To be able to make present day decisions.

[00:08:11] It forces you to kind of confront your own upbringing and childhood. So maybe things that you didn’t come to terms with at the time. Um, whilst you’re making decisions for the person in front of you – whether that’s your own child, you’re trying to think back to. Okay. What was I like? And what were the decisions that were made for me and really that process of coming to terms with your own youth, while helping someone else, do you find that?  

[00:08:37] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:08:37]  

[00:08:38] Yeah, definitely because I think people live or they try to live vicariously through their children to have the life that they didn’t have. And I did it myself, you know, I was like, my son is never going to know hunger. He’s never going to know poverty. And then all of a sudden this kid has got more Lego than the entire school and it’s not [00:09:00] healthy, you know?

[00:09:00] So I had to check myself in reverse, you know, and sort of be like, actually. You’re going to ruin this kid in a different way. If you just pile all this on, you know, and I don’t think any parent ever sets out to be a bad one because we have such a poor reference point anyway, and then we sort of just like, we perpetuate this stuff, but, and for me with

[00:09:26] Young people it’s about going, they have a right to be whatever it is that they want to be. You know, whether that if they want to be a joiner or a plumber, or they want to go into law, you know, they want to be a lawyer. They all have an equal value. Um, and actually what makes them happy?

[00:09:44] Because as you know, I’ve spent a lot of my career in the hard edges of what happens when young people’s choices are taken away from them, you know, suicide prevention, bereavement, self-harm, mental health. And it’s like, that’s what happens. You know, when [00:10:00] children and young people’s dreams are squashed or taken away.

[00:10:04] I do feel passionately about this. Um, and I don’t think it has to be this way.

[00:10:12] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:10:12] So let’s come to Hundo, right? I want to know the moment that drove you to go? Actually, I need to start this. And when you decided to start this, how much of what it is today?

[00:10:25] Was part of that initial idea? How much has it changed? Give me that kind of origin story.  

[00:10:31] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:10:31] The origin story. Yeah. How long do we have!? So it’s very interesting because, um, it feels very much like when I had the record shop, the lad who ran the shop for me, Mark. We put together a project for schools, you know, doing music workshops.

[00:10:50] After school to reengage young people in education and training. And that was almost the blueprint, I didn’t know at the time, but that was almost a [00:11:00] blueprint and it’s kind of like sort of 15, 16 years later, you know, Mark went off and had an amazing career with Live Nation, Time Out and Culture Trip.

[00:11:07] And he’s now working with me again and it’s like, it feels like this is a beautiful sort of. Um, I don’t even know what the word is, you know, kinda like, so that whole time we didn’t know that was what we were doing. We were just in our twenties just doing something. And now it’s like that that’s kind of where it really started.

[00:11:23] And then obviously, sort of 2016, I was asked to work with the recruitment industry, to set up a foundation. And I suggested that we should look at youth unemployment. I’ve been self-employed for like ever, so I didn’t really even know what recruitment was.

[00:11:44] I was in this office, you know going, I’ve never seen anything like this, you know, never worked in an environment like this. And I started to see the possibility that there was something in it, you know, I wasn’t [00:12:00] bright enough to figure it out, but I could feel there was

[00:12:03] some way of taking this kind of like social mission, you know and their social purpose. And trying to find a solution. And then I met Piers, who’s my co-founder. And he’d done 10 years in investment banking, private equity recruitment. And he came and volunteered with me for six months and he just came back and he was like.

[00:12:26] Well, it’s just so inefficient, like the whole process of young people, leaving education and trying to get a job it’s totally inefficient. Because he’s the complete opposite of me. And so we both sat there and we were like, there’s got to be a better way. Because it’s not really working for anyone.

[00:12:44] It’s not working for young people. It’s not working really for educators because they don’t want to see the young people they’ve just worked with drop off and end up at the Job Centre. No one wants that. And employers on the other side are going. We really need entry level talent. We’ve got [00:13:00] skill shortages, we’ve got gender diversity problems.

[00:13:02] And, and I guess that that sort of perfect storm in many ways was where Piers and I were like, okay, let’s build a program. Let’s test it. Let’s see if it works. Um, and then I went and spoke to the person who’d been my major donor at the charity. And he said yes, I’m going to back you

[00:13:25] as a business, go away and write a pitch deck. And from that time on, I’ve become something I never expected to be, which is, which is a tech company co-founder, which is as much a surprise to me as anyone else who’s known me.

[00:13:48] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:13:48] What is the better way. Right. So, you know, the problem makes sense. And like you said, it’s, it’s not working for anyone, and they’re there and they’re the best kind of problems, right? Yeah. [00:14:00] So, tell me what the better way is.

[00:14:02] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:14:02] So for us, I’d always looked at it through the lens of young people, you know and on that side of it and just going, we know why employment is good for young people.

[00:14:12] Um, the problem with that way is you’re always relying on charity. You know, you’re not relying on donations, you’re relying on Goodwill. And that’s not sustainable. And that’s what I learned, so I looked at it and I was like, how do we build a solution ultimately, that is designed with a young person at the heart of it, but it’s actually one that an employer will turn around and go, yes, I need that.

[00:14:41] And yes, I want those young people. Not because I feel sorry for them. Um, but because I actually recognise I need entry level talent in my business. So , ultimately what we want Hundo to become is that bridge between educators and employers. [00:15:00] Um, so that we can start the conversation early with employers to say, even if you’re like a scale-up or a startup, start thinking about your entry level talent, because if you want to achieve a diverse pool of talent across your whole of your business, at every level, you have to start there, you know, with things like Black Lives Matter with, you know, I was talking to Josh

[00:15:22] Akapo and you know, young black people are facing the equivalent levels of unemployment as when the Brixton Riots were happening. You know, this is a bad situation,  and actually no young people are fairing well. Um, you can’t mandate tick box quotas into businesses, it won’t work and you can’t sit in a committee talking about diversity.

[00:15:46] It’s like, you have to start it from the entry level, because then in three years time, you will have a kind of consistent pool of diverse candidates coming through. Um, and that’s really our sweet spot. You know, we’re sort of going work with us now. [00:16:00] We can help you build a comprehensive entry-level talent program and solution that is going to achieve the diversity that you want within your business.

[00:16:11] And that’s different for different businesses, you know? So, for gaming, massive gender diversity issues, you know, banking, just diversity issues at every level. We’re really aware that there’s no one size fits all, you know, but what we with employers, the first thing we do is we put them through a two-step process.

[00:16:35] The first bit is the scorecard, which is basically they submit all of their early talent collateral. And then we send that to young people to go: Do you understand what this business does? Would you work there? Do you think you could work there? You know, and we start there and from that feedback and those insights, we then build the employer launchpads, you know, on the, [00:17:00] on the Hundo platform.

[00:17:01] Um, and then young people and employers can start interacting, you know, because career discovery, even knowing what jobs are out there is a barrier. That’s kind of the first bit that we’re doing, and that’s what we’re going to spend the next 12-18 months doing.

[00:17:21] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:17:21] There’s a lot there to unpack,

[00:17:25] I guess, how receptive do you find these corporates or large organisations are? Are they aware there is a problem and therefore, are they receptive to a solution to help them solve this problem?

[00:17:41] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:17:41] I think for corporates and bigger companies, I think it’s much more challenging for them.

[00:17:48] Because they have so much more going on, I suppose, in a way. They’ve got sort of committees and a kind of infrastructure [00:18:00] that takes longer. Whereas when you talk to SMEs and scale-ups, um, particularly like younger founders themselves, you know, they’re much more agile and they’re much more able to go.

[00:18:12] Oh, yeah. If we were with Hundo, you’re like our entry level talent pipeline, our HR function for that thing that we want to achieve. So that’s easy, you know, that way you can just plug and go. Whereas with the enterprise and bigger clients, obviously it’s harder. But having said that, we partner with Reed.

[00:18:30] Right. Um, and they have been amazing, you know, they’ve absolutely seen the value of this. They absolutely recognise that as a business, even though they are a great business to work for, they just don’t achieve that thing of finding these kids that they would really like to hire, you know, and the fact that we can just help them do that.

[00:18:48] And so I think it very much depends on the business, um, in terms of its DNA. Some will really get it and others will struggle. Um, we can work with [00:19:00] both, but obviously some are easier than others.  

[00:19:03] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:19:03] Going back to what you said earlier around the kind of different ways people have tried to tackle this in terms of quotas and tick boxes.

[00:19:10] And sometimes almost feeling like it’s a handout or it’s a kind of charity. Because I remember, and one of the things I know we’ve connected over before is, I come from a quote unquote disadvantaged area. I still live there and growing up as a kid, I know there used to be a lot of disadvantaged kid things that they used to do.

[00:19:30] And one of the really frustrating things was we used to have people come over from the European parliament, et cetera. And they would interview you like, what’s it like? And it was always like [00:19:46] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:19:46] I don’t know any different, that has been me growing going up. I didn’t know what the better life was, but this person asking me this question evidently makes me aware that there was a better life and this is slightly different [00:20:00] and everything, even if it was coming from the right place, you almost felt.

[00:20:06] Like it was antagonising you because you’re frustrated at what you didn’t have rather than it coming from a place where it kind of, it was aspirational and you wanted to get there. So I find it’s such a fine line, right. So how do you, I guess on both sides, how do you communicate that in a way where the young person doesn’t feel patronised or you know, frustrated at this kind of discrepancy and how do you make sure the organisation is communicating this in a way that’s not coming across that way.

[00:20:42] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:20:42]  It’s similar to you. It’s like, you know, single parent family, you know, my grandma’s from Sri Lanka, so we grew up in a completely. You know, kind of diverse house or whatever, but I do feel like I tread this [00:21:00] fine line between like, like not wanting to be this like worthy lady, you know, all these young people.

[00:21:07] And then with employers, you know, sort of trying not to be like, just hire them, just give young people a job, like come on. Like, so it’s a real, it’s a real conflict for me. And I agree with you. I think I I’m so bored of the labels, you know, I’m bored of this generation being called generation lost.

[00:21:25] You know, and I was sick of, you know, young people being called ASBOs – can we please stop labeling. I don’t even like the phrase young people because I talked to Nadia who works with me, and she’s like, it’s such a stupid word.  

[00:21:43] So it’s a minefield. Um, and I agree with you. I think we have to change the narrative around what’s possible. And actually instead of that, there’s bias on both sides. That’s what I’ve learned. Um, you know [00:22:00]. Young people can have a particular opinion of employers or types of employers and employers very definitely have an opinion about young people.

[00:22:07] And, and I think that actually breaking that down is a challenge. And I think you have to do it through language and narrative. And so for us, it’s why our strapline is now connecting forward-thinking employers with Gen Z talent. It started off with. You know, Oh, young people leveling up and leveling the playing field and all this, and it’s just like, it’s just rhetorical, it’s empty.

[00:22:32] I think that’s important. I agree with you, people who come from places of disadvantage, it’s going, it’s that the stats speak for themselves, you know, is it something like 80% of the billionaires in the U S were college dropouts. And I go like, yeah, because.

[00:22:55] Yeah, it’s just very much that for me, it’s a thing you go in, they might be [00:23:00] disadvantaged or have socioeconomic disadvantage. Okay. So let’s say what that really is. That’s poverty, that’s intergenerational poverty created by the system, you know, so let’s actually say what it is, child poverty is what causes youth unemployment.

[00:23:15] And so let’s just say that as a statement and not wrap it in words. And then actually say, yeah, if this young person has grown up in an environment that was challenging and difficult, the amount of resilience and skills and abilities that’s given them.

[00:23:36] It’s massive. And so let’s not judge them for their academic failings. Let’s actually look at what they’re bringing to the table and let’s match them effectively with a future that they want. I think we really need to do that and we need to stop making policy on poverty from a position of privilege.

[00:24:00] [00:24:00] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:24:00] Just on that Esther, you mentioned kind of how much of it do you think it is Academic failings versus the failing of academia and education itself, right? Because you mentioned earlier around, um, young people and the number of jobs that they know exists. And I’ve seen this with the work I’ve done with young people in our local area that, you know, there’s still only about five jobs.

[00:24:22] They know that they think exists out there. Um, and almost you think just more awareness and it’s the classic kind of special when you come from the kind of quote disadvantaged or poor background. Is, you don’t necessarily have the network, right? So there are many jobs that I never met until I was in my twenties.

[00:24:45] Right. I know these jobs existed and people would get paid to do that job. And I find the same thing exists today. And if you don’t know that you almost don’t know to kind of seek it out or seek out what I [00:25:00] need to learn and what skills I need to get that job, because I didn’t know that job existed. So what can we do there?

[00:25:07] Because there’s so many stakeholders, right? There’s parents, families, there’s the kind of education system. And so how do you even begin to solve it?  

[00:25:21] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:25:21] Yeah, for the last three years I’ve been burning my brain out, trying to figure that out. And the truth is there is no one, there is no one simple solution, you know, and that’s why ultimately Hundo.

[00:25:33] Will become a marketplace, you know, that brings all of these things together. You know, we’re not so arrogant as to say that we have the one solution. The education system, you know, at a systemic level is difficult because it values academia so much more highly. Um, you know, I had special educational needs at school.

[00:25:54] I have a D in Maths. You know, and it’s like, that was a good grade for me. I’m [00:26:00] amazed I even got that. Um, and it’s just that sort of there is no flex, there’s no flexibility. It’s such a rigid system that that’s been in place for so long. There are some brilliant educators within it.

[00:26:12] You know, there are some, some great teachers I’ve had both good ones and bad ones. They can make all the difference. But we have to stop, I think, judging on this one metric. Um, and there’s nothing in the system at the moment that allows for what are the entrepreneurial skills, you know, all that stuff that’s going on outside of the sitting and learning in this really rigid, regimented way.

[00:26:36] Um, so for us, we bridge it by partnering with colleges. Right. Again, teachers tend to have been teachers as a career choice, you know, they went to uni, they went to study that. So how are they supposed to know the, just plethora of jobs and things that are out there. Um, and again, most of the jobs exist within the SME [00:27:00] space, so it’s very fragmented.

[00:27:01] Um, so for us, it’s going, if we can bring the colleges coming together on Hundo,  with the employers and they’re starting to share that learning and knowledge together and all the way through that young people can access both sides. You know, they can see what courses are available. They can then see what jobs and what industries and employers exist that are relevant to that education that they’re going to choose.

[00:27:24] And so for us, you know, we’re working at a much younger age group initially, you know, kind of 16. 16 to 18, because if you, as a 16 year old can actually go, Oh, I’ve been on this website, through my college, I’ve clicked on life sciences and oh, there’s all these like jobs and there’s all these industries, not just the Deloittes and all these, you know, crazy companies that are sprouting up everywhere.

[00:27:48] You’re giving yourself a fighting chance because you’re choosing education. That’s actually going to lead to jobs and it sounds really simple [00:28:00] and it kind of is, but you have to, you have to build the platform to do that. So, yeah.  

[00:28:05] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:28:05] No, it makes sense. And I guess a step in that direction is the kind of the work you’re doing with kind of the Kickstart Scheme.

[00:28:12] Right. So tell me, tell me a bit about that and how that works and what you’ve been doing with that.  

[00:28:18] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:28:18] Yeah. So I actually thought it was a brilliant move from treasury to provide free six month placements, you know, for businesses. And, um, what we did was partnered with tempo.

[00:28:31] They were able to submit jobs for kickstart. And what we were able to provide was the support for the kickstart candidates and the clients, because obviously businesses were going great. We can hire a young person for six months, but, our fear was are they just going to sit making coffee, like, are they going to have a really bad experience?

[00:28:56] And then also once the placement ends, what’s going to [00:29:00] happen to those young people. I don’t want to see them back at the Job Centre in six months time. So, we very much focused on something very simple, it’s like a check-in point, you know, kind of in advance, have they got everything they need?

[00:29:12] And then check-ins at the three month point and six-month point. And then obviously Kickstarters can, um, at least we know as their placements are ending. We can start to be looking at, can we support them either to stay within the business, even if it’s like moving around a bit or are there other employers that we have access to where we can be like, well, this person’s now got six months of really great experience on their CV.

[00:29:35] The nice thing about the scheme is. It’s actually some really great careers, you know, there’s some really good jobs. It wasn’t all just like Tesco or retail or, you know, it was actually digital marketing, you know, kind of some stuff where you’re getting really, really valuable skills. So I feel, I feel quite hopeful, you know, there’ll be some good outcomes, um, from that.

[00:29:57] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:29:57] Someone who’s listening to this right now and [00:30:00] they’re like, yeah, I want to, I want to get involved.

[00:30:01] And how do they get involved and benefit from what you’re doing with the Kickstart Scheme?

[00:30:05] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:30:05]  Yeah. So, um, they can just direct message me on LinkedIn, or they can message jennifer@hundo.careers, um, or just go on the hundo.careers website. And there’s a kickstart page. So multiple, multiple ways of getting in touch with us.

[00:30:23] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:30:23] And, you know, in some ways, this idea of kind of learning in a short period of time and upscaling young people ready for the kind of work that’s out there. You’re quite good testament of that, Esther, because you’ve learnt all sorts of things in a short amount of time. I mean, one of the things that stood out was a prepping for the triathlon.

[00:30:45] Where did that come from? And, and you know, what made you do that? And so to me, I’m just interested in the, how you prepped yourself for that in such a short period of time.  

[00:30:56] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:30:56] Um, so, uh, basically it was a charity. We were [00:31:00] raising money to support young people into work. There’s kind of a narrative here, you know?

[00:31:04] I was going, you know, young people are facing huge challenges and all that stuff. But we should do things that really challenge us to raise money. I couldn’t tell you why that felt so important at the time, but it did. Now. I’m just like, why didn’t we just do bake sales. It’s so much easier.

[00:31:21] Um, but that, you know, that was me four years ago. So me now is like, Oh, and so, um, one of the teams that was raising money, decided to do a triathlon and signed me in for it as well. And of course, I had no background in sport. I’ve was completely written off at skill because I was severely dyspraxic so totally useless at sport.

[00:31:46] And then. And yeah, I had to learn to swim and cycle and ruin in a very short space of time. But you’re absolutely right, I was literally written off, so I’d never even have considered [00:32:00] that I would be able to do these things and you know, I’m not, I’m not brilliant at them, I’m not professional athlete.

[00:32:06] Um, but I found something that I really loved and actually vocationally that opened up a whole new world for me. So, um, I obviously learned to swim, cycling and run in that order. Um, and um, I decided to do my coaching qualifications. Um, so, um, I’m a level two bridge triathlon coach qualified now and a level three sports therapist.

[00:32:28] And it’s fascinating because actually. We talk a lot about young people, but actually for like an older generation, you know, I’m 41 now. And it’s like, people feel, people feel written off, you know? I guess for me, it’s going, you can reinvent yourself as many times as you want. And it’s not easy learning to swim when I was terrified of water, it was not easy.

[00:32:53] But I do think if you’ve got that sort of. It’s a growth mindset, isn’t it and sort [00:33:00] of an element of not being afraid to take a risk, not being afraid to fail. Um, and I do think that young people have so much power to determine their futures. Um, I, I see it as like our responsibility as adults it’s like, we should be opening up that pathway for them.

[00:33:23] You know? It’s like, yeah, you want to do that? Great. Go and do it. It was actually, bizarrely, a DJ named John and we used to work in shows and stuff. We were driving him back to his hotel and he’d basically said his dad was like, a DJ is not a career. You’re never going to make it, you know, like this and his father died just before he got super famous.

[00:33:48] And this is years ago, like it’s like 2001 and it really stuck with me. It’s like people can [00:34:00] surprise you, you know, people can do amazing things  

[00:34:05] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:34:05] That definitely resonates. And it reminds me of, I remember when I started my first business and building it out, even after a good couple of years, when we’ve grown the team.

[00:34:16] I still had this one aunt who would keep asking me when I’m going to get a proper job.

[00:34:23] We were creating jobs, but she kept asking when am I going to get a proper job? I’m pretty sure that if I saw her now she’d ask the same thing so I can definitely realte to taking an unconventional route and all of that is relative. Right. But kind of going back to. It’s incredible that you did the triathlon.

[00:34:46] It’s even more incredible that you decided to become a qualified coach. A great way of making me feel bad about myself, given you’re doing so many different things, right. And you’ve learned new skills [00:35:00] and as you said, you’re now a tech founder of a business. Right? So. Do you now, in hindsight, when you look at it, feel like you have some kind of framework or approach for how you tackle new things.

[00:35:14] So when you know you’re going into uncharted territory for yourself, is there a particular framework you have now where you’re like yeah. You know what? I should do A first then B next to be able to make sure I’m as successful as possible within a space?

[00:35:27] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:35:27] I would love to lie and say yes but the truth is I’m ridiculously stubborn and hopelessly naive, you know, I just kind of go, Oh, what’s that?

[00:35:44] And so this is, yeah. Give it a go. And I go, okay then, you know, and then obviously live to regret it. I think it’s just, it’s just that I’m interested, I’m curious about things. I [00:36:00] don’t think I’ve ever lost that childlike quality. And I think we do lose it, you know, see people kind of become adults.

[00:36:09] And for whatever reason, I still have that. I always say that, my son when he turned 13 and sort of became the adult, you know, in the family.

[00:36:24] Um, so yeah, I think it’s that I am stubborn. I’m willing to work hard. You know, I don’t have any like super powers, any special skills but I’m just willing to get in the trench and grind, you know, and get it done. And I think that counts for a lot, you know, there’s very little that you can’t achieve.

[00:36:45] Um, if you’re willing to put the work in that’s, that’s my. That’s my belief  

[00:36:50] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:36:50] Love that Esther and, and, you know you said about curiosity. I often think it’s such an underrated skill being curious. And I think [00:37:00] it’s, unfortunately, sometimes I hear it in the context of people almost look at it like a, wishy-washy thing but it’s such a fundamental thing that drives so many other behaviours.

[00:37:10] And, you know, you said trying to keep that inner child active. So what can someone do, someone listening to this that feels like they’ve kind of lost a bit of that curiosity – what do you think they could do? Or what are the things you’ve done to make sure you’ve kept that curiosity and that seeking nature to go exploreand try it out.

[00:37:36] What can they do?  

[00:37:37] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:37:37] Um, I think, I think it’s sort of like. Having a moment to step back and look at your life, you know, and go, none of us plot our lives. I don’t believe anyone plotted their life to be how it ultimately became. You know, even if you did have a plan, it never works out quite how you imagined.

[00:37:56] And I guess it’s something about. You know [00:38:00] what are you interested in? What do you care about, you know, is it know, is it cooking? Is it, you know, is it skiing? Is it crocheting? Is it knitting? The adult coloring books, you know, there’s explosion of this thing.

[00:38:18] I think people feel this tremendous pressure. And certainly it’s reflected to me a lot. People go, I don’t know how you do what you do. And I go don’t use that as a benchmark for what you should be doing, because I can look at 10 other people and go I’ve got no idea how they do what they do. And we’re never going to get there.

[00:38:33] If we keep benchmarking ourselves against other people. I don’t think it helps, you know, there’s always going to be someone faster, better than me, myriad things, not bothered about that. You know, I think it’s a deeply personal thing. I really don’t like these like Instagram things and self-help where it’s like, change your life in

[00:38:58] Seven minutes [00:39:00] by getting up at five in the morning. I’m like, ah, I don’t want to get up at five in the morning. And I think it makes people feel, you know, this whole like self-help and change thing. You can go to work and do a job. And then when you can come home, you can learn, you can pick up a skill. if you want to learn a language or if you want to do something like we have a whole world of opportunities on the internet.

[00:39:24] You know, to do that. And I think it’s about taking the first step. You know, it’s like if I hadn’t had been signed up for a triathlon, you know, and I wouldn’t be able to swim and being able to swim has now opened up a whole world. And I think just it’s the first it’s taking the first step. Um, and that first step is super scary.

[00:39:44] Um, or it can be, um, but it gets easier. The more you do it it’s like anything. And so I would encourage anyone, you know, to just pick something up and have a go. And if it goes wrong or if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter. [00:40:00] You know, we’re really not told that failure is, is a positive thing, you know, I run start up.

[00:40:07] You own a business, there’s no guarantee. You know, I am absolutely. I will put everything I have into making Hundo work because it matters, you know, because there’s millions of young people who need support. And if we can somehow make that work, you know, I’ll get up every day for that. Um, but there’s no guarantee.

[00:40:26] in life of anything. So, for me, just, just give it a go and you don’t have to tell anyone, you know, it’s like, if it goes wrong, it doesn’t, I’m still trying to learn Ableton and it’s driving me up the wall, you know? And at some point I’m probably just going to throw the towel in and go, I just know how to play records and I’m just going to stop trying to be a producer, you know?

[00:40:49] Um, but yeah, it’s yeah, just, just pick something up, give it a go. And if the worst thing that happens is you don’t like it, you know, or it doesn’t work.

[00:41:00] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:41:00] We’re now at my favourite part of the show which is our quickfire questions. I’ll throw some questions at you relatively quickly give me quickfire answers.

[00:41:13] If you do want to dive into it, I won’t hold it against you.

[00:41:18] Let’s start off with the first one. What’s the one bit of advice that you were given as a young person that you think had such a huge impact.

[00:41:34] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:41:34] I don’t know. I don’t have an answer to that. I don’t have an answer to that. I think mostly, I rebelled against everything. It wasn’t advice. I would look at things and go, no, I’m not doing that.  

[00:41:50] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:41:50] Let’s flip that around. What’s one advice you would now give the 16 year old Esther.  

[00:41:57] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:41:57] Um, it’s going [00:42:00] to be okay.

[00:42:02] It’s going to be okay. I wish I wish someone had said that in fairness, one person did say, when I opened the record shop is actually Tony Wilson from Factory Echoes. He said, people will either love or hate you for what you’re doing. Either way, they’re going to be talking about you. So there it is. And you  

[00:42:23] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:42:23] Do you think you would have listened? Do you think if someone said it’s going to be okay to you at 16, you would’ve listened?

[00:42:31] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:42:31] listened. I don’t know if I’d have believed them. Yeah, I would listen, but I don’t know if I’d believe them.

[00:42:41] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:42:41] Because it’s almost like. I think if someone told me that today, I’d be like alright then.

[00:42:50] It’s one of those things where hindsight is 2020, but you just wonder – at what point do you think you’re ready to listen to [00:43:00] someone who is kind of 20 years on? Who’s saying okay, chill out, relax a bit more. And it’s at what point would you listen?

[00:43:12] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:43:12] What’s the one bit of advice you’d give to someone who’s thinking about doing the triathlon for the first time?

[00:43:17] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:43:17]

[00:43:19] Don’t attempt an iron man as your first triathlon. Um, maybe do a sprint or a standard or an Olympian, don’t throw yourself into the most ridiculous thing that anyone’s tried to do.

[00:43:38] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:43:38] Um, I mean, this is not really a quick fire one, but I’d love to get your take on it, which is after helping so many people and organisations find the right candidates and the right people for the job. Well, what’s it been like hiring and expanding your own team that Hundo?  

[00:43:55] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:43:55] Um, it’s been great actually, because we’re clearly a [00:44:00] super values driven, social impact, you know, mission business and my whole thing always is going like we’re not perfect.

[00:44:11] We’re never going to be perfect largely because I’m the founder of the business, but it’s like, um, we’re going out to companies and talking about the benefit of, you know, young people and a diverse workforce. And actually it makes us hold ourselves to a super high standard, you know, so I can legitimately.

[00:44:33] Go to a business and say, we have a 50% gender and neuro diversity. We have ethnic diversity. And I, you know, we have young people in our business and if we, as a startup, can do that, anyone can do that. And I do think it’s much more powerful when you can go out for me, particularly because it goes to integrity.

[00:44:55] You know, it’s like if I’m sitting there. Telling a business, what they’re doing. And then my [00:45:00] team are like on their knees and having a really bad time or just, that just doesn’t work for me. Um, and I, and I’ve always been like your vibe attracts your tribe. And I think we have got like a proper, like a proper tribe and it’s like, yeah, it’s good, man.

[00:45:14] The nicest thing is everyone who interacts with those. They’re always like the Hundo calls are the ones I look forward to, they’re like the best ones out of my whole week. And I’m like, if we can keep that going, ask me again in a year.

[00:45:30] But yeah, certainly building it from the ground, like that is super important. And I’d love to believe one day that. You know, before I am like ridiculously older, uh, that we could be like just powered and run by young people. That, that for me would feel like success. You know, if the whole thing is just run by the people that we set out to help  

[00:45:50] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:45:50] Sounds amazing.

[00:45:50] And what would you say as the next question for someone who’s listening to this, in the HR team, or maybe they’re a founder, a [00:46:00] senior leader. What’s the one thing they can apply Today or this week I’m to, to kind of support better diversity in them, more so from the hiring younger people perspective, but what’s the one thing they can start to do from today?

[00:46:27] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:46:27] Talk to us. Don’t fear the change it’s coming anyway, you know, Gen Z is rising and rising. They’re not going away and embrace them, you know, work with them. You’ll, you’ll get a better business because of it.  

[00:46:40] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:46:40] And last question from me is what’s the one skill you’d love to develop and why?

[00:46:49] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:46:49] Um, I would love to, um, I would love to learn to sail. Oh, wow.  

[00:46:55] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:46:55] Where did that come from?  

[00:46:56] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:46:56] Because I really want to go, when Hundo is hopefully, you know, a massive success and running itself, I want to go and, basically I have a massive thing about blue carbon and the environment.

[00:47:15] Um, so I’d love to go like, and work with sea shepherd and actually go in and volunteer on the boats and stop illegal and over-fishing happening. Um, and I feel to do that. I feel basically now I’m completely useless to them apart from being able to swim. Whereas if I can like pick up some sailing skills, then I’ll be a useful human in the future.

[00:47:45] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:47:45] This has been a very inspiring chat and I’m sure for everyone listening as well. Thank you for coming on the show  

[00:47:58] Esther O’Callaghan: [00:47:58] Thank you very much. [00:48:00] Awesome.  

[00:48:02] Nelson Sivalingam: [00:48:02] And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode! Whether you’re inspired to take on a triathlon or motivated to make the most of your available talent, I hope you’ve taken something away from my conversation with Esther. If you’d like to connect with either of us, everything you need is in the episode description. You can also head over to gethownowstage.wpengine.com/podcast to find the shownotes and information on every other episode of 99 Problems.

If you enjoyed this episode, please do think about subscribing, sharing, leaving us a review or telling a friend. It goes a long way in helping the show grow. Thanks and see you next time.