Accenture this week announced a more than CA$1.1 million cash and in-kind services grant to the Canadian nonprofit organization Acces Employment to help it deliver more customized services to job seekers across the country through a new chatbot. 

The company has committed $200,000 in pro bono work as part of the grant.

Acces Employment helps connect Canadian employers with qualified job seekers from diverse backgrounds. 

“This grant from Accenture will help us use technology to strengthen our services and to bring more efficiency to our online services, reach and to our ability to serve job seekers,” said Allison Pond, president and chief executive officer of Acces Employment, in an interview with IT World Canada.  

Canada welcomes around 300,000 immigrants each year, out of which only about 24 per cent of foreign-educated or skilled immigrants end up finding work that matches their training and experience, according to Statistics Canada. 

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But by acting as a virtual attendant for these job seekers, the bot will aim to bridge this gap. It will make use of conversational AI, machine learning and automation and help job seekers locate the requisite online resources, including e-learning modules, skills assessments, videos and articles. 

The chatbot project will be delivered in three phases. The technology supplier hasn’t been determined but will be in the first phase of the project. 

“The first phase is both data collection and vendor assessment phase. So, there’ll be an assessment of the different vendors in tech out there and then that will be determined in the first phase,” said Janet Krstevski, managing director and lead of Accenture Canada’s talent and organization practice.  

This announcement follows Accenture’s CA$1.4 million grant in 2016 which was used by Acces to develop an online platform to deliver resources and services, enabling it to serve double the number of job seekers it served earlier.

Acces receives about 300,000 visitors to its website each year, and right now, it is only serving about 10 per cent of them. The bot, according to Acces, will be able to engage more people through effective interactions and help the nonprofit serve 15 per cent more people during the first year of operation. 

“Conversational AI is how online technology understands common questions and inquiries. We might have people just come into our site saying – how can I find a job?…and so the bot has to be able to understand the ultimate goal of that user. It also has to know what services we have available to recommend to them and in what way. In many ways, the bot will use this AI, but also draw on all of our service knowledge that we have in house to say ‘okay, we’re going to recommend this service or workshop about resumes because you’re at that step,” explained Ada Wong, vice-president of marketing, communications and digital strategies in the interview.

“The flip side of the bot is the database, which is really critical for us. We’re on a Salesforce database…and this is just the other side of the bot interacting online and gathering all of this data, putting it back into our database so that we can learn from the interaction and can actually improve our internal business processes to deliver services more efficiently and effectively,” elaborated Wong. 

Acces said it is looking at a fall to early winter launch. 

“From my understanding of the technology, we hope to launch a bot that has a close to 90 per cent accuracy rate and is able to align our business processes, the right answer…and will continue to learn after it is launched. So with each interaction with the public, it will gain new knowledge and will continue to adapt is the answer..and that work will go right into next year. And we’re going to be tracking the results of the project for a full year following the launch,” said Wong.

Accenture and Acces have been partners for more than 10 years. This grant is aligned with Accenture’s Skills to Succeed program, which is a corporate citizenship initiative that aims to help resolve critical issues faced by business and society.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada