FE students showcase their digital skills in national competition

Over 1,000 students from colleges around the country have taken up the annual challenge to produce a technology solution, which addresses a problem faced by young people and supports several charities.

FE News article, 12th April 2023
A group photograph of the students taking part in the competition

Students from Barking & Dagenham College, Birmingham Metropolitan College, Hugh Baird College Liverpool, and Coleg Gwent in Wales have been involved in the industry-led ‘Digital Skills Project’, organised by Julia Von Klonowski at DSC.

In its seventh year, the project focuses on a topic relevant to young peoples’ lives. CHANGE was chosen this year; specifically relating to the cost-of-living crisis, war in Ukraine and the environmental crisis. Charities relevant to the topic are also selected – with the Prince’s Trust, Digital Poverty Alliance, the Trussell Trust and The CyberHub Trust all involved this year.

Students were asked to submit initial proposals and the entries were whittled down to 120 finalists from the four colleges. These young people attended the special presentation day earlier this month at Amazon Web Services’ offices in Shoreditch — where they showcased their ideas in front of a judging panel.

Judges, specialists and sponsors included representatives from Mastercard, ITV, Experience Haus, the Alpine Group, Career Colleges Trust, EY-Seren, AWS, Ford, the City of London Police, the Met Police (MPS), Hanover Communications, Alpine Professional Services and Hays (Recruitment specialists), as well as a representative from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT).

Students worked in project teams and had been coached and mentored throughout the 16-week period. They were supported with communication, project management and digital literacy skills — as well as being provided with LinkedIn training sessions and social media guidance..

At the final, each team was given 15 minutes to present their submissions – explaining their ideas and how they developed them. They were also required to provide details about design cues and User Experience. Every student was then asked to reflect on what they had learnt from the project.

Prizes were awarded at the end of the event — recognising the Best Presentation (Nanook – Coleg Gwent), Best Reflection (Self Discovery – BDC), Best Solution (Student Mart – Hugh Baird), Best Run Project (Trekd – Bmet), Best Business Skills (Stumbr – BDC) and Best Overall which was won by the decode team from BMEt. In addition, the Alan Livett Award was presented to the student who demonstrated the most spirit, tenacity, passion, and resilience. This award is in memory of the former Deputy Headmaster who despite having Motor Neurone Disease, lived life to the full in the years prior to his death. Hannah Keown from Hugh Baird College in Liverpool was the recipient of the special prize this year.

Having conceived, planned, and led the Digital Skills Project for the past seven years, Julia Von Klonowski said:

“This really is the most amazing project, and I can’t thank our experts and partners enough for the time and support they give. It’s a perfect example of education, business, government, police and charities working together to provide opportunities to young people who would not normally receive this kind of experience or training.

“The solutions the students produced were of such high quality that the police representatives have contacted some of them to develop these ideas further. This reflects the value of this project and the real-life impact it has.

“The reflection part of the presentation always moves me (and many others!) to tears as you realise just how many challenges some of the students’ face but then overcome with hard work and determination.

“These students are the next generation of skills experts – and employers need to nurture this talent to ensure their businesses continue to thrive. Well done to everyone involved and I look forward to next year’s project.”

The judging panel included Laura Tobin, meteorologist, author and weather presenter from ITV. She said:

“This event was a great success, and the students were amazing. I left feeling inspired and uplifted.”

Mathilde Fell from the Prince’s Trust said:

“It was a brilliant day, and I am so pleased I was able to play a small part and see the incredible work of all the young people who attended.

“I was incredibly impressed by the innovative solutions the young people put forward, but also by the obvious hard work and courage they displayed. It was very powerful seeing the Prince’s Trust research being used as the students put forward their solutions.

“I would love to be involved again next year.”

Having seen his students pick up awards for best overall, and best run project, Director Oliver Stokes from BMet said:

“I just want to say what a brilliant event it was. This was another fabulous experience for our students and winning the award for overall best run project has really boosted their confidence. All students were fantastic, and I was so proud of our BMet groups and the staff that have supported them so well.

“Also, thank you to dsc and all the employers involved for the work they put into our students’ projects, including the time spent developing their presentation skills. They were all so supportive. We are really looking forward to next year!”

The 2024 Digital Skills Project is already in development, with several more colleges in the UK wanting to be involved. If you or your college is interested, please contact Julia Von Klonowski on: julia.von.klonowski@digitalskills.consulting