From education to employment

Students showcase creative digital solutions to real-world issues in competition final

Over 100 students from further education colleges around the UK attended the final of the annual Digital Skills Project challenge at Wavemaker’s Head Office in central London this week.

Working in small groups for the past 12 weeks, the 16-18-year-olds have developed digital solutions to a range of real-world issues that affect them and their peers – this year relating to the theme of Addiction.

The students came from: Barking & Dagenham College, City College Plymouth, Birmingham Metropolitan College, Hugh Baird College Liverpool, and Coleg Gwent in Wales. They have been supported throughout the project by a team of industry experts, who have offered advice, workshops and masterclasses.

The young people presented their ideas to one another and a judging panel. The twelve judges represented a wide range of industries from medical tech, data analytics and software development, to security & policing, charities, recruitment, PR, communications and marketing.

Topics covered by the finalists included: alcohol, vaping, social media, shopping, drug & gambling, and pornography addictions. Each group designed a unique and thoughtful app to address their chosen issue, aimed at supporting young people affected by these problems.

Leading and hosting the event was Julia Von Klonowski, CEO of Digital Skills Consulting. She said:

“Today’s event demonstrates the amazing talent of young people in FE colleges. Working in a team for twelve weeks on a real-world project, requires hard work and the development of many skills – from communication to people management, as well as the technical and digital element.

“Every group gave a fantastic presentation, sharing their ideas and the reasons for developing their unique solution. The judges and I were blown away by both the quality and the confidence shown by these young people. Many had never presented to such a large group before, or even been to London, making their achievements even more impressive.

“Choosing the winners was a difficult task; I’m so proud of every single young person who has taken part in this project. The skills they have developed are exactly what employers want and need – and will absolutely support these young people into fantastic careers. I want to personally thank Wavemaker for supporting the Project and providing the venue for the Final”

Each finalist gave a ‘reflection’ at the end of their presentation, sharing their thoughts on how the project went and any challenges they faced. Many of the students talked about their personal experiences and how these inspired the development of their solutions.

Natasha Arazi, a Manager from Barking & Dagenham College, was so impressed by the event that she shared the following with her IT/Tech department: “I wanted to share how fantastic the event was yesterday. Special thanks to Julia and Michael for organising such an exceptional day.

“It was truly inspiring to see all of the students’ remarkable performances and their ability to overcome various challenges along the way. Your dedication & support has been the driving force behind this.

 One of the judges was Edward Flack, a software engineer at Ford (who will shortly start on his Masters at Oxford University). He took part in the Digital Skills project seven years ago, when he was a student at Barking and Dagenham College.

He said: “It’s great to be a judge here after taking part myself a few years ago. The standard has really gone up and I’m so impressed by the ideas and presentations. This project helped equip me with the people and presentation skills I needed to successfully secure a degree apprenticeship, as well as the networking opportunities.”

 Fellow judge Bhushita Jolly is also project alumni, having taking part in the competition seven years ago. She is now a business data analyst at Redbridge Local Authority.

In response to the Project Manager of the overall winning team (Solve Nexus), she said: “It was such a pleasure to meet you and you truly deserved these wins. Here’s to many more in the future!

“I truly enjoyed our conversation and your passion for IT really shone through, and as you very well said, there is ALWAYS someone there to listen, advise and suggest. I feel honoured to have been there for you yesterday.”

Kate Lawson is head of product design at Nourish Care, a medi-tech company. As part of the judging panel, she commented:

“I’m so passionate about the future of design and the education to support new talent, which is why I am involved in this fantastic project. I’m so impressed by what I’ve seen, the students’ ideas have been amazing. Projects like this help develop problem-solving skills, which are crucial, particularly in healthcare with the many challenges we are facing.”

Here’s what some of the students taking part had to say:

Khadijah Bi (17) Project Manager of the Overall Winners, Best Reflection and BMet Student of the Year

“Presenting Solve Nexus was an unforgettable experience, I was filled with inspiration and emotion as we shared stories and discussed the effects of Addiction. I want to  thank everyone for this incredible opportunity. I’m grateful for all the support received and to my fellow team members.”

Joshua Williams (17) is studying Digital Technology at Coleg Gwent:

“We chose drug addiction as our topic as it hits home, and we all have friends who are affected. Our team worked really well together and it has definitely helped develop my IT and digital skills, as well as my presentation skills.”

Kaine Tombs (17), also studying Digital Technology at Coleg Gwent:

“I got to share my personal story today and everyone has been so supportive. This project has really helped me improve my communication skills, as I am really shy.”

Charlie Cargill (18) is from Plymouth College, studying IT:

“This project is amazing. I didn’t realise so many people would be here today! Being part of this has really improved my presentation skills and I’ve enjoyed working with my group. I am planning to go onto a degree course after college.”

Anna Stanciu (18) studies IT at BMet:

“I love working with people and took on a `helping and guidance’ role in our project team. I’ve learnt that sometimes you just need to slow down and take a step back before you can solve a problem. If anyone is thinking about getting involved in this project, I’d definitely recommend taking on the challenge.”

Valiyah Kerr (17) is doing a Digital T Level at Barking & Dagenham College:

“I got involved in this project as I wanted to get some experience of the business world and expand my skills to prepare me for the future. I was really nervous at first, but my confidence has grown. I’ve also improved skills like attention to detail which will be useful. I want to do a degree apprenticeship next.”

Saeedah Khanom (17) is a student at BMet, on a BTEC Level 3 IT course:

“For me, it was the addiction theme that got me interested in this project. I wanted to be involved in designing something that would help people that are affected by these issues. I’ve learnt how to work well in a team and have really improved my confidence and communication skills. I’m aiming for a career in IT, so this project is a great opportunity for me.”

Winners were chosen in several categories as follows:

The `Alan Livett Award’ (Amber MacFayden) awarded by Digital Skills Consulting (DSC)

This acknowledges the student who exhibits the same characteristics of strength, resilience, good humour and perseverance against all difficulties, as an amazing teacher (who died of Motor Neurone Disease), as well as the ability to work in a team and show enthusiasm in the face of significant difficulties.

Best Overall Project awarded by Wavemaker – Solve Nexus Matthew Boulton College (BMet – Birmingham)

Best Run Project awarded by Hays Recruitment – A.I.D.A Hugh Baird College (Liverpool) awarded by DP World

Best Reflection awarded by Hanover Communications- Solve Nexus Matthew Boulton College (BMet)

Best Presentation awarded by DP World SANA – Hugh Baird College & Ponderer Barking & Dagenham College (London)

Best Solution awarded by AXON – Breathless Coleg Gwent Wales

The `Student of the Year’ Award from DSC

BDC – Aviel Murphy

BMet – Khadijah Bi

Coleg Gwent – Kaine Tombs

Hugh Baird – Tajus Trainauskas

City College Plymouth – Ashley Chevis

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