There is no shortage of mentoring programs and initiatives out there to support professionals in their careers.
However, it’s a little more difficult as a secondary or tertiary student to engage with industry and find someone to help you take the first steps in your career – while there are various internship programs and platforms to help you find them, like Data61’s Ribit, these might not be of much use to those students who still don’t know what it is exactly they want to do and test out.
Looking to help them is Canberra startup OK RDY. Created by Timothy McKay and Brad Bai, OK RDY is a matching platform connecting students with professionals and companies for mentorship and skilled volunteer opportunities, with the aim to improve employability, diversity, and cultural outcomes.
For McKay, OK RDY is the response to both his own university experience and a variety of issues he has seen across his career.
Like many students, McKay had no real clear idea of what he wanted to do after graduating while at university. A student society that organised field trips to various organisations however provided a good solution for him by helping him see what was out there.
“We could speak to professionals and often senior executives about their typical day, have a look around their offices, get a feel of the culture, learn about how they worked with client or stakeholders, about problems and how they overcame them; things that aren’t available on most websites,” he said.
“I saw firsthand how this simple experience helped educate students on where they did want – and just as importantly, where they didn’t – want to apply for internships, programs, or graduate positions.”
McKay then saw the other side, industry, was also facing problems in terms of finding students and graduates to bring into organisations.
“There is an acknowledged gap between student academic outcomes and the work ready expectations of employers. Keen students want more opportunities to learn and develop their real-world skills but don’t know how to start, who to talk with or how to engage professionals or companies in the industry they are preparing to enter,” he explained.
“This results in a personal and financial ‘cost’ to both graduates and employers, workplace culture mismatches and a collective cost to already skills strapped industries. OK RDY is designed to automate existing manual processes to help scale capacity and solve these issues.”
The road to launching OK RDY came three years ago, with McKay and cofounder Brad Bai looking to work out how to provide a free, useful tool for individuals, while also providing real value back to paying customers.
“I’ve always had a rough idea of what the concept needed to be but the specifics have certainly evolved over time. The entire platform has been subject to interviews, demos, feedback, iterations and everything in-between. I always wanted OK RDY to ultimately be user-centric by design, easy to use, meets a burning need and solves a real problem,” he said.
After developing his own prototype, McKay worked to bring on developers to turn it into an MVP, finding this a key challenge.
“Finding people that are in the same stage of life as you, with the rights skills needed to execute, that can commit the time over a sustained period and are willing to believe in your vision – that’s a tough combo to achieve and I’m really lucky to have a great team and my own amazing mentors to help guide me.”
In its current iteration, McKay said the platform works through ‘flash’ mentoring; users create a profile in which they detail their mentorship status, industry, and goals, and then look for matches. A mutual match will allow users to message each other, with an integrated calendar helping to schedule a meeting.
The platform has a recommendation engine to suggest matches to individuals and organisations based on a user’s personal interest, professional skills and goals, and in particular their social values, McKay explained, such as women in leadership, diversity, STEM education, Indigenous skills capacity building, cultural support, and so on.
McKay has identified the startup’s target users are students and graduates, and any stage professional.
“For our closed-beta we’ve focused on the Digital and ICT sector, however by design OK RDY is an agnostic platform and we are keen to offer opportunities to every industry sector as we scale,” he said.
The app is currently in closed beta, with a number of partners currently participating in a paid three month trial.
“Our goal is to work with them to increase mentorship capacity, identify emerging talent, enhance outreach programs and other related capabilities,” McKay said.
For their payment, partners receive access to the platform’s data; the value here for organisations, McKay said, is the time it saves them by automating existing manual mentoring and corporate social responsibility processes.
“Partners leverage our underlying analytics engine, to access data that enhances their ability to identify and track emerging talent, support internal professional development and CSR programs and improve recruitment and retention outcomes that maximise community brand awareness, workplace culture, and strategic policy,” he explained.
The startup will spend the remainder of the year focusing on collecting feedback from current users and iterating on this before launching to a wider audience.
Had enough of all the startup buzzwords? So have we. That’s why we’re asking the startups we chat to to send us a video where they pitch their business in a way that’s easy enough for even the most technophobic of grandparents to understand:
Image: Timothy McKay. Source: Supplied.