James Uffindell: “Bright Network provided one million hours of online learning”

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Having seen a vast number of Durham students taking part in the Bright Network virtual internships this summer, Interview Editor spoke to Bright Network’s founder, James Uffindell, about networking, inequalities in the workplace and digital learning.

Frustrated at the lack of careers support for graduates, in 2013 James Uffindell founded Bright Network, a technology platform which utilises data to build “the workforce of tomorrow”.

Uffindell is proud to say that today, Bright Network supports over 280 000 graduates and over 300 of the world’s largest employers including Google, Innocent Drinks, Goldman Sachs, Accenture, KPMG and PwC, which provide students with their invaluable expertise. The company’s partner firms find the talent they need to grow their businesses and help students from diverse backgrounds fulfil their potential. The network’s unique member model provides the UK’s best and brightest graduates, irrespective of their background, with the highest quality careers advice and support through a digital platform, dynamic events and personalised one-on-one advice. The business has raised over £8M of venture capital investment to date, and is one of the fastest growing careers networks in the UK.

Internship Experience UK took the student world by storm.

In June 2020, Bright Network launched Internship Experience UK – a free initiative which took the student world by storm, providing virtual internship experiences which aimed to upskill and support young people, both in the UK and internationally, throughout the Covid-19 crisis. The programme offered 3-day internships in Investment Banking, Technology, Business, Operations & Marketing, Finance & Professional Services, Consulting and Commercial Law.

The programme included sector-focused skills workshops with the leading companies in the field, set project work to simulate a real-life task within the industry and opportunities to network both with the partner firms and with fellow students. Uffindell informs me that the programme received over 91 000 applications, delivered to over 62 000 students, 1 162 of whom were from Durham University, making up 1.3% of the overall applications. He concludes that “overall, an amazing one million hours of learning were delivered”. Overwhelmed at the positive response, he explains that the programmes generated more than 20 000 posts on LinkedIn, from students and professionals alike.

The platform provided one million hours of learning delivered to over 62, 000 students, 1, 162 of whom were from Durham University.

With regard to the way that Covid-19 has impacted the job market, Uffindell confirms that “there’s no question that confidence has been hit”. The network’s data reveals that 90% of their members think it’s going to be more difficult to secure a grad job in the coming year due to the pandemic. Bright Network was therefore determined to support as many students and graduates as possible, at the time when they needed it most. Uffindell explains how the Internship Experience UK programme was set up in just six weeks, in response to “the huge enthusiasm from our members to boost their employability during lockdown, while many internship programmes were being delayed, shortened or cancelled”.

Uffindell and his team reached out to their network of employers, partners, university career services and government bodies, to curate the unique experience. He adds that their pre-existing members helped to spread the word, adding to “the phenomenal buzz” around the programme. Bright Network alumni also returned to support current student members through workshops and feedback sessions, “showing the power of the community across the 350,000+ membership”.

In order to make the programme as accessible as possible, Bright Network invested £200 000 of its own funds into Internship Experience UK: “the need to support our members and other students this summer was like no other and with such uncertainty for students and graduates, such an initiative felt more important than ever and at Bright Network, we had the network and expertise to make it a reality”. Uffindell reiterates that “Bright Network’s mission has always been to connect every student with the best opportunities available”. Therefore, all the services which the platform offers are completely free. Furthermore, the virtual internship model put students who do and don’t live in London on a level playing field, eliminating the costs of commuting or accommodation for those who live outside of the capital, a precedent that needed setting. The stats also reveal that 64% of attendees of the Internship Experience UK programme went to a state school.

Bright Network’s mission has always been to connect every student with the best opportunities available.

When I asked how Uffindell has managed to grow the business so rapidly, he explains that he started his first business from his student bedroom in 1999, which he subsequently sold to a Private Investor in 2013; “so it’s definitely easier second time round!”. He explains how his team of 40 (which is rapidly expanding), is a “bright, ambitious and diverse workforce” and has worked together with employers, to offer exciting opportunities to both parties.

It’s clear that the way that the professional world has had to adapt to working virtually is something which is very much simulated by Internship Experience UK. Uffindell concludes that “a major shift in the graduate job market will be how employers connect with their future talent”. He adds that Bright Network will continue to support students and graduates throughout the year, through its various online workshops and academies which offer inside knowledge and careers advice. Despite the fact that graduate employment is currently at an all-time low, Bright Network really is the light at the end of the seemingly bleak tunnel.

Image: Bright Network

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