Welcome to the new Digital Innovators website

Mick Westman, Founder

I’m thrilled to welcome visitors to our new Digital Innovators website (and blog).

The last 12 months or so have been a whirlwind of activity for our team. What started (in 2016) as a pilot project to help young people that had struggled to reach their full potential through traditional academic routes, has since blossomed into a full blown course benefitting hundreds of students – and we couldn’t be more pleased.

Our work to date has seen us develop relationships with colleges, universities, local authorities and employers, all of whom want to help young people unlock their potential. Feedback from our students and partners suggests we really are changing lives – not just by giving students the skills they need to excel in the workplace, but by giving them the confidence in their own ability to succeed.

Take a look at the unique way that we work with young people in further education, and the exciting projects the students are engaged in with our local employers. Projects that make a real difference.

None of our work would be possible without the considerable support of our partners, employers and supporters. Thanks to generous support, we are starting to expand what we do and look forward to sharing some announcements about this soon.

As well as our latest news, our blog contains insights into our ground breaking work, and our thinking on topics such as apprenticeships, the future digital workforce and what being being “digital” means.

This is also where we’ll keep you updated with our latest news, tell you about events and courses we are running and also publish informative posts on the digital world we all live in.

We have gone through a re-branding exercise managed by our Associate Communications Director, Catherine Martin, and have a great new logo and look that reflects our belief that we truly do “Unlock Potential”.

We’re excited about the future and look forward to working with existing and new partners to enable more young people to find the right path to their chosen career.

DI Skills Programme – Participant’s Perspective: Savannah

We caught up with one of our Digital Innovators Skills Programme participants, Savannah. She tells us how she found the programme, how it was impacted her career path and tells us what her plans are for the future!

What were you doing before you started the programme?

“I had just finished my final year at sixth form and was preparing for job interviews, then news reported that Covid-19 was going to force closure on the majority of businesses. This meant that all interviews were cancelled and left me unemployed.

How did you find out about the training?

“I found out about the training from my work coach and was sent the link to the Digital Innovators website.”

Once you’d discovered the programme, what actually made you decide to join?

“Before finding out about the training I spoke to my mentor about any opportunities he could recommend that would help develop my confidence and teach me something new and he recommended the Digital Innovators Skills Programme. I decided to join as I felt I would be able to use the skills and apply them in my future job role.

What did you think of the training? How did it help you?

“I learned a lot of adaptable skills such as problem solving skills, negotiation skills and presentations skills. I will be able to now apply that knowledge and skills during my apprenticeship.

Were there any barriers or obstacles you had to overcome?

“There were no barriers I had to overcome. A positive is that the course being online due to Covid-19 was very useful and everything was easy to access. I may not have been able to travel everyday and attend each activity if the course wasn’t online.”

What impact has the training had on your life?

“The training developed my confidence and allowed me to meet new people.”

“It was nice that I was in a completely different working practice than engineering and I got the opportunity to try something new.”

How has the programme prepared you for employment?

“Before the programme I knew what I wanted to do with my career and used my networking skills to keep in contact with employees from my previous work experience. However, the programme did bring my confidence back which has been impacted since lockdown and it was nice to communicate and meet new people again.

How have you found working with an employer on a project and what skills do you think this allowed you to demonstrate?

I found the project very useful for my future role, working with the client and building that trust with them and collaborating on ideas to create what they were asking for.

“I have always enjoyed my creative side and my task to create a website was rewarding and fun.”

What are your plans for the future?

“My plans for the future are to complete my degree apprenticeship with Jacobs which I start very soon. After my degree in a few years I plan to move to one of the companies offices in Canada while doing charity work part time.”

What would you say to someone who was thinking about doing the training but wasn’t sure?

“I would tell them about my experience and would happily speak to anyone who is having doubts.”

Thanks Savannah! We are so happy to have had such an impact on your career path and wish you the best of luck in your new role. Here’s to the future…

Interested in getting involved with Digital Innovators? Click here to start your journey or get in touch here.

Are you an employer? Would you like a young person like Savannah to work on a project for your business? Find out more about our projects here.

What is it like to have a Kickstarter?

Are you interested in the Kickstart Scheme? Do you want to know more about what it is actually like to employ a Kickstarter?

Well, nearly 6 months ago we hired the wonderful Hannah through the Kickstart Scheme, and it’s safe to say… we haven’t looked back since. So, we want to share what our experience of the Kickstart Scheme has been!

What was the application process like?

As we applied through a Kickstart Gateway, the process of applying for the Kickstart Scheme was very straightforward!

After an initial approval period, we submitted a job description and then waited for applications to come through from the Job Centre, after which we could conduct interviews.

This is where we met Hannah and realised she was the person for the job!

How has the overall experience been?

The best word to describe our experience of hiring Hannah through the Kickstart Scheme has to be – valuable.

Not only has Hannah taken on her day-to-day responsibilities without a hitch, but has been able to offer fresh insights and perspectives on our wider operations. David Hull, Business Development and Operations Director, has worked closely with Hannah and had this to say about his experience:

“For Digital Innovators, the Kickstart Scheme is a win-win. The scheme provides us with the opportunity to give a young person the chance to kickstart their career with real work experience, whilst also providing the opportunity to gain new perspectives and diversity within the team.”

“On a personal level, employing through the Kickstart Scheme has allowed me to be more effective and efficient in my work as my experience is blended with the youthful input of our Kickstarter, Hannah.”

Would we do it again?

Definitely! Hannah has added so much value to Digital Innovators and continues to support our long-term objectives with her work alongside the Business Development team.

It has also been a pleasure for the team to see Hannah’s personal development whilst in this role, something which will continue as Hannah is going to be staying with us permanently whilst completing a degree apprenticeship!

We are also currently recruiting for another young person to join the team via the Kickstart Scheme!

How was the Kickstarter’s experience?

As much as this has been a great experience for the team at Digital Innovators, it has been equally as impactful for Hannah. Here’s what she had to say:

“I started a Kickstart position at Digital Innovators about 5 months ago now, and have really enjoyed the whole experience! I have had the opportunity to work with a great team whilst in a meaningful role, and gain real life work experience. I have also been able to develop my confidence and vital professional skills such as communication, team work and organisation. I’m excited to see what else is to come.”

So, you have heard our experience with Kickstart…

What could yours be like?

For more information on the Kickstart Scheme and how to apply through our Kickstart Gateway, click here.

To download the Digital Innovators Project Guide – including FAQs, case studies and more, click here.

Any questions? Get in touch at info@digitalinnovators.co.uk.

Managing your network

How to manage your network – maintaining and nurturing relationships

In one of our previous blogs, we covered some ways in which you can build your network. But after you have begun to build and establish these relationships, how do you maintain them?

In this blog, Kim Casey – Curriculum Consultant and Mentor at Digital Innovators – delves into how he approaches this matter, coming from over 30+ years of practicing it.

Networking is a key skill that has many facets to it. In the simplest terms, it refers to the number of relationships that you have created with others and the benefits which emerge for both parties of the relationship as it is developed over time.

So, once you have established relationships within your network, how do you go about maintaining them?

There are many ways to do this, but one exercise I use is called the circle of influence. You might be wondering what I mean by that… Well, if you were to draw a small circle in the middle of a landscape piece of paper and write your name inside it, you will have started your own circle of influence.

Then all you need to do is add a circle around the centre for each relationship you have created – these relationships can be both personal and professional. One by one, your circle of influence will grow and on this piece of paper, you will have written the people who most affect your life, professionally or personally. I would recommend using two different sheets to separate the two areas of your life.

But what is the point of drawing these circles of influence? For me, the reasons are…

  • By marking down the most influential people in my life, I have a visual representation of the network I have created, and I never lose sight of what is important to me.
  • I can also regularly check each page and make sure I take actions to keep each relationship alive, healthy, and thriving.
  • Additionally, in times of need, I can refer to these circles to see where is best to seek help.

Try it out yourself!

Now you’ve read what I think about this exercise and how it helps me keep on top of my networking, why not try it out yourself? Click here to download “The Circle of Influence” worksheet where you can mark down the various relationships you wish to maintain.

Click on the image above to download your “The Circle of Influence” worksheet

Tip: If you were to tackle every connection you have made through your networking, you might find yourself with a very overcrowded piece of paper.

So, when making your circle of influence, it might be useful to categorise your connections. Some potential categories could be: professional development, personal interest or commercial interest.

Think about your connections, the categories they might fall into, and how you would go about prioritising them – then you will have the relationships most important to you in your circles.

What’s next?

Of course, outlining and acknowledging the relationships you want to maintain is only half the journey. Once you’ve identified this, however, you will then be able to take action, and here are some suggestions of how.

  • Have any of your connections shared any good news online lately? Make sure you are cheering them on, say congratulations!
  • If it has been awhile since you were last in contact with someone, send them a message or ask to go for a coffee (I’m sure they will be eager to after over a year of zoom catch-ups).
  • If you see something that reminds you of them – an article, a poster, anything – why not send it to them? Sometimes little gestures like that can make someone’s day!

These are broad examples which can applied to both your professional and personal networks, but the overall point is that small, regular actions can go a long way to maintain and nurture a relationship, so that when the time comes, both parties are able to ask for help, advice or whatever it is they are looking for!

So, there you have it! Kim’s top tips for maintaining and nurturing relationships within your network.

If you would like more careers advice like this, subscribe to The Stride – our monthly newsletter full of tips and tricks to help you on your path to employment. Check out our previous issues here.

This article was written by Kim - Curriculum Consultant and Coach

DI Skills Programme – Participant’s Perspective: Anthony

We caught up with one of our Digital Innovators Skills Programme participants, Anthony. He tells us how he found the programme, what he was able to gain from it and what he is looking forward to in the future.

What were you doing before you started the programme?

“I had been working as an engraver for 16 years, using lasers, diamond drag and sand engraving machines in the trophy industry. Then Covid-19 hit and I was made redundant, meaning I was unemployed.”

How did you find out about the training?

“I was sent an advert for the Digital Innovators Skills Programme by my work coach at Wolves at Work, which is a Wolverhampton Council initiative.”

Once you’d discovered the programme, what actually made you decide to join?

“I had been out of work since September 2020 and was very low in confidence. This low confidence was exacerbated by my age (52 years old) and the fact that I have only ever had one interview. I thought the programme would give me the confidence boost I needed, whilst also being able to gain some extra skills.”

What did you think of the training? How did it help you?

The training was just what I needed.

“The training itself is very good, with a lot of support when needed. The tutors were patient with us and explained everything really well. I never felt out of depth (although sometimes I was a little nervous). Ultimately, this course has given me a lot of confidence.”

Were there any barriers or obstacles you had to overcome?

“There were no barriers for me to overcome in terms of joining the programme. Although, if the course had not been online, I may not have been able to attend as I have very limited funds available for travel. I am lucky enough to own a laptop with decent internet connection as well as some programme’s that have helped for our final project.”

What impact has the training had on your life?

“The impact has been great. I’m not as worried about the future as I once was.”

“It’s given me a much-needed confidence boost and an insight into different working practices – as well as a lot more skills I could use in the work place.”

What are your plans for the future?

The most immediate plan is to get a job. However, the range of jobs I will be looking at has expanded due to this course.

How has the programme prepared you for employment?

The programme has given me the confidence to look for a wider range of employment opportunities. Not only this, but by teaching such things as resilience and how to maintain a good work-life balance, I believe that life in the future will be a lot less stressful.

What would you say to someone who was thinking about doing the training but wasn’t sure?

I would simply tell them about my experience and how the tutors are good and supportive.

I would also tell them that the course is challenging but fun and with the support given by the tutors, it is definitely worthwhile.

Thanks Anthony! Your story is inspiring and we’re so glad you found our programme so worthwhile. Here’s to the future…

Interested in getting involved with Digital Innovators? Click here to start your journey or get in touch here.

Digital Innovators Project Round Up

Our 2020-21 cohort of students on our skills programme at Solihull College & University Centre have completed this year’s projects!

To say we were blown away by the talent and determination of our students would be an understatement. So, of course, we would like to fill you in on the incredible work they have produced over the past year.

What have our students been up to?


Gener8door team members, Samuel and Izabela, came up with the idea of powering college campuses and workplaces using kinetic energy from revolving door motors and kinetic paving slabs.

Over the course of their project, the team have put all their planning in place, have successfully CAD (Computer Aided Design) modelled and created working prototypes of their revolving door and paving tile – and have both secured apprenticeships for next year. Great job team!

Youth Support and Protection (YSAP) – West Midlands Police

The YSAP team – Eve, Yasin, Renee, Dante, Kyle and Hannah – were given the opportunity to create an awareness campaign in partnership with West Midlands Police to inform young people about the dangers of knife crime.

The team has now successfully created a fully functional website that contains interviews, blogs, and short films created by team members which increase awareness about the issue of knife crime, as well as where victims and perpetrators alike can seek support. Such amazing work!

Police Perspectives – West Midlands Police

The project team were given the challenge of collecting information from young people to enable West Midlands Police to see how they were perceived by young people in the local area. 

After creating a questionnaire and an advertising campaign to promote it to young people, Wanis and Aidan successfully collected information on the perception of the police in the West Midlands.

Return 2 Driving – University Hospitals Birmingham

The project team were challenged by the Orthopaedic Department at University Hospitals Birmingham to create a piece of equipment that can accurately test the tensile strength and reaction time of patients who have recently gone through leg surgery, so that they can give them the green light to start driving again. 

So, what was the outcome? Thembe, James, Ryan, Israa, James, Daniel and Ben were able to create a simplified proof of concept of the apparatus needed as well as user handbooks, a website for the product and marketing material.  

Maps – University Hospitals Birmingham

University Hospitals Birmingham asked another Digital Innovators team to create an interactive, easy to follow way of navigating each of their hospital sites.

The team have successfully created a fully functioning Artificial Intelligence (AI) chat bot that is able to tell users how to navigate through to different parts of a hospital. The team are going to continue working on the product next year to flesh it out for all hospitals – how innovative! Great job – Troy, Kamil and Cameron.

Taran 3D

The project team – Maggie, Harrison, Harpreet, Thomas, Jaskran and Chloe – have been working with Taran3D to create their own 3D modelled and animated mascot that can be used in Augmented Reality (AR).

The Taran 3D team went on to create a fully modelled 3D mascot that has been implemented into an AR app, and will be continuing on to add animations next year. We can’t to see what you come up with next year!

DI App

Another team of students were given the opportunity of creating an app to be used by future students of Digital Innovators. The purpose of this app would be to log work experience hours, record portfolio work, and use resources provided by Digital Innovators.

Ethan, Jasper, Anwar, William, Saim, Nabil and Luke have successfully created a proof of concept and designed the aesthetic of this app, and will be continuing this project when they return in September.

The Core

In collaboration with Solihull Council, this project team has been given the opportunity to create a 3D modelled Virtual Reality (VR) version of the gallery featured in The Core, Solihull.  

During their project, Emily, Chloe, Morgan and Lily were able to teach themselves 3D modelling, completed their initial planning, and created some basic design mock-ups of what they think their version of the gallery will look like. We’re very excited to see the next stages when the team continues next year…

The Members Agency

The team – Tom, Danielle, Jonathon and Hilmiya – were given the opportunity to redesign three pages of The Members Agency‘s website to make it more visually appealing whilst maintaining the business’ aesthetic.

After planning and making mock up designs of the web pages requested by The Members Agency, the employer liked them so much that they gave the team permission to redesign their whole website, which the team have now successfully created. Great work, team!


Reece, Tom and Josh were given the opportunity to create a customer relations survey and customer-oriented app for Touchwood Solihull.

The team have successfully completed a fully functioning app for Touchwood that helps customers find their way to the shopping centre and locate shops throughout. They can also use the app to find out vital information such as COVID-19 restrictions and accessibility provisions.

Faced with ever-changing restrictions due to COVID-19, the team adapted and chose to include the customer relations survey they created as a feature in their app.

BNP Paribas Personal Finance

This team, which included Ben, Samir and Jai, were given the task to create a recruitment campaign on behalf of BNP Paribas Personal Finance, and to come up with ways to attract new employees and fresh talent into the business – which they have successfully done!

Birmingham Parks

Birmingham City Council have been faced with the challenge of increasing footfall to local parks in Birmingham, which they tasked a team at Digital Innovators with addressing.

As a result, the team – Fynn, George, Hakeem, Irfan, Alfie and Maria – have successfully created a QR code-activated scavenger hunt which involved many different species of animals – aimed at young children to encourage them to visit and explore more of the parks in Birmingham.

Solihull Radio

Solihull Radio has given a Digital Innovators team the opportunity to create, plan and carry out a set of podcasts on topics they believe could help young people. 

After quite a number obstacles, the project team now consists of one student, who has singlehandedly created a planned each stage of the podcast production and content. Great work, Shane!

So, there you have it!

A round up of all the projects that our students have worked on over the past year… We are incredibly proud of the progress our students have made, especially given the circumstances they have been been working under.

But, what’s next for our students?

Our first year students are off to have a well-deserved summer break before returning to continue their projects next year.

But what about our final year students? Well, it comes as no surprise that many of them have secured apprenticeships and university places to study everything from engineering to film – many inspired by the experience they gained during their projects!

We can’t wait to see what they go on to achieve… Good luck team!

Get in touch!

Are you an employer? Are you struggling with resources?

Interested in having a DI project team tackle a challenge for your business? Please get in touch via info@digitalinnovators.co.uk or submit your interest here.

Or if you are interested in taking on one of our brilliant students through the Kickstart, you can find out more about doing so here.

My Kickstart Experience

Recently heard about the Kickstart Scheme? Not quite sure what it is or why you should be interested in it? Well, Hannah, Business Development Administrator at Digital Innovators recently went through the Kickstart Scheme and is here to shed some light on how it all works…

What is Kickstart?

Kickstart is a scheme that provides funding to employers to create roles in their company specifically for 16-24 year olds who are in receipt of Universal Credit and are at risk of long-term unemployment. The government will fully fund the position for a duration of 6 months by providing the national minimum wage for 25 hours a week (which an employer can choose to top up).

The Kickstart scheme is a great way for young people to take the first step into a career, develop their skills and gain more experience. In addition, each employer who takes on employees through Kickstart is required to help them become more employable. Therefore, if you were to apply for a Kickstart role, your new employer will help you in a variety of ways, including: looking for long term work, career advice, CV & interview practice, provide any additional training, developing skills and boosting confidence in a real working environment.

So, what’s in it for you and why should you consider applying for a Kickstart role?

· A Kickstart role could provide the perfect opportunity for you to take your first step into the working world.

· Kickstart roles are specifically designed for young people with limited work experience, so there are no formal entry requirements for them (only that you are between the ages of 16-24 and are claiming Universal Credit).

· It’s a great way to see if you like working in a specific role or industry, without the commitment!

· Employers will offer training and development opportunities for you so that you can develop your skills whilst in the role, as well as improve your employability for the future.

· Of course, another bonus is that you will be able to earn some money for the duration of the 6-month contract!

· Once your contract has finished, not only will you feel like you are in a stronger position when applying for jobs in the future, but you could potentially be kept on by your employer.

Sounds great! But how do I apply?

Applying for a Kickstart job is simple, there a just a few things you need to sort out first!

1. In order to apply for a Kickstart vacancy, you need to be in receipt of Universal Credit. So, if you aren’t already in receipt of this, that is the first step you should take.

2. After you have completed step one, you should have been put in contact with a Work Coach by the Job Centre. Talk to your Work Coach about Kickstart vacancies and express your interest in applying, they will then be able to suggest a vacancy to you that you may like to apply for, or you could ask them about specific roles/industries you may be interested in.

Many of our employer contacts are interested in employing Digital Innovators graduates through Kickstart. As a member of the DI Collective, we know your capabilities and career interests. So, whenever a Kickstart vacancy becomes available with one of our employer contacts which is suited to you, we will notify you of it. Then, you can ask your Work Coach to refer you to it.

3. Your Work Coach will then make a referral which will allow you to complete an application for the role. Once you have applied, the employer will then be able to follow their normal recruitment process, which will most likely include an interview.

4. Should you be successful, it is then over to the employer to onboard you and set you up as an official Kickstart employee!

So, that’s a round-up of the Kickstart Scheme! For more information about the scheme, click here and here.

Are you an employer? Interested in taking on a young person through the Kickstart Scheme? Click here for more information on applying via our Kickstart Gateway.

Ready to kickstart your career with a 6-month placement? Get in touch and join the DI Collective to be informed of new vacancies with our employer contacts!

What skills do employers really want?

It seems these days that hardly a week goes by without another report being published telling us about the skills needed by employers to drive the innovation required for a thriving economy.

Today Kingston University added to this list of reports by publishing the results of a YouGov survey of more than 2,000 employers. You can download the report here.

According to the Kingston/YouGov survey the top 10 skills for innovation, identified by more than half the employers sampled, are:

  1. Problem solving (77%)
  2. Communication skills (66%)
  3. Critical thinking (64%)
  4. Digital skills (64%)
  5. Analytical skills (63%)
  6. Initiative (62%)
  7. Adaptability (60%)
  8. Creativity (56%)
  9. Ability to build relationships (55%)
  10. A questioning mindset (55%)

For the team at Digital Innovators it is really pleasing to see that the skills listed in this report are those that we aim to develop as part of our Digital Innovators Skills Programme (and have been doing for the last 4 years). Skills such as collaboration, communications, critical thinking and creativity, which we refer to as the 4 C’s, are core to what we do on our programme.

Another report from October 2020, published by the World Economic Forum (WEF), lists a different, but overlapping, set of skills which it claims are “the top 10 job skills of tomorrow.” These are:

  1. Analytical thinking and innovation
  2. Active learning and learning strategies
  3. Complex problem solving
  4. Critical thinking and analysis
  5. Creativity, originality and initiative
  6. Leadership and social influence
  7. Technology use, monitoring and control
  8. Technology design and programming
  9. Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility
  10. Reasoning, problem solving and ideation

An important outcome of the WEF report is that the vast majority of business leaders (94%) now expect employees to pick up new skills on the job – a rise from 65% in 2018. So, not only do the skills needed by employers vary depending on which report you read, but many employers expect these to be picked up rather than taught.

We are very much in favour of “learning by doing” at Digital Innovators, and this is something that is integral to our skills programmes. However, we believe this needs to be done within a learning framework whereby the required skills are first identified, then developed further through a mixture of hands-on practice and reflection techniques.

Psychologists have shown that using reflection helps people to not only learn but also to acquire the skills we need throughout life. New neuroscience research also shows that reflection has many other benefits, including helping us make decisions about how, what, and when to study.

Learning by doing and reflection are both great techniques to adopt in order to develop the skills desired by employers. However, these techniques alone will not be sufficient to address the skills shortage we currently face. We must recognise that creative skills as well as STEM (i.e. Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) skills need to be taught as part of a cohesive learning package rather than separately.

To put it another way, creativity is not just something that gets ‘taught’ in an art class. Creativity (as well as problem solving, critical thinking and many of the other skills listed above) should be considered as integral to a well-rounded education, whether specialising in the arts, the sciences, or something completely different.

Art and creativity are not interchangeable words. Of course, artists need to be creative but so do scientists, business leaders, and entrepreneurs. In all of these roles, one needs to be able to apply creative skills, frameworks and techniques to address some of the most frustrating questions and wicked problems of our time.

If we are to move forward and create a fairer and more equitable world, as well as a future workforce with the skills to innovate and boost our economy, we need to remove the stigmas behind certain skills only being applicable to specific industries. We need to move towards an infrastructure which regards the skills listed above as multi-disciplinary, and recognises the importance of providing frameworks to develop them.

If any of the employers and business leaders who contributed to the Kingston University report would like to get in touch to discuss what Digital Innovators are doing to develop the skills listed in the aforementioned reports, please reach out to us here.

Are you an employer in need of innovative, creative individuals to boost your workforce? Click here to find information about receiving funding for 6-month work placements through the Kickstart Scheme or get in touch here.

This article was written by Pete - Design and Technology Director

Digital Networking

What is Digital Networking?

Digital networking is effectively taking the action of meeting new people, online. One of the best ways to do this is using certain social media sites – but even if you’re not keen on social media, there are still ways to network online.

So, how do I network online?

There are plenty of resources and articles around this topic available online, but here are some of the key tips to get you started.

Build your online presence

Many businesses and organisations have an online presence – whether this be on social media sites such as LinkedIn or via blogging platforms or websites. This provides space for people to connect and share information with others, as well as improving brand awareness.

With more than 675 million members, LinkedIn is becoming increasingly prevalent in the professional world and brilliant way to get started building your online network. You can use this platform to showcase your skills, experience and interests (much like an online CV) as well as engage with your online connections and leaders in your industry. Setting up an account is free and there are lots of videos and guides online to help you set your profile up.

LinkedIn is all about business connections and it’s not unusual to request to connect with someone you haven’t spoken to or met before. People are far more likely to connect if you send them a personal note – in the same way that a CV with a covering letter is more likely to be read. Something as simple as ‘I’m interested in knowing more about your industry and the work you do and would love to connect’ will often suffice – but even better if you can reference a piece of work they have done or an article they have written.

Develop relationships

Build your presence by interacting with your connections and potential new connections, as well as by engaging on other social media such as Twitter, Instagram or Clubhouse. Twitter, for example, is used by professionals across many industries including tech, journalism, politics, and more.

Sharing some personal content with your networks will build relationships but keep in mind that this is about developing your career – a private account might be better for sharing content you’d prefer not to share with a future employer.

Not sure what to share? Have a look at the profiles of people in the sort of roles you’re interested in. What are they sharing? You’ll probably find a mix of personal and professional. A good way to start is by finding articles or statistics that you have found interesting and sharing them with a comment – or resharing content from another contact with a note about what you like about the post or why you think people will be interested.

Contribute to the conversation

Get involved. As you are developing your online presence and growing your network, position yourself online so that you can be part of the conversation. Wherever the conversations are being held, try to be there too, with valuable comments or appreciation of what’s already being said. This is more likely to make people want to reciprocate your interaction and take notice of you.

Here are a few ways you can do this:

  • Follow relevant pages, people and newsletters
  • Stay up to date with your industry or job roles that sound interesting
  • Reply to or comment on people’s posts and articles – even seasoned professionals welcome feedback, shares or comments that show they’re reaching people
  • Offer your insight on topics you’re interested in
  • Share valuable resources and information you spot – and tag the original source to show appreciation and increase engagement

Not keen on social media?

While sites such as LinkedIn can be great for online networking, you can still engage with companies and individuals online outside of social media. Search for free events and webinars on sites such as Eventbrite or visit the websites of companies you’re interested in to see what events they’re running.

Take part in conversations during events and follow-up with the event hosts afterwards. Keep a note of the people you meet and where you met them. Many blogging sites allow you to add comments to the end of articles which is another way of getting your voice heard. Why not start by telling us what you think of this article in the comments section below?

Maintaining momentum

As you grow in your professional life, your network will continue to grow too – and is likely to change over the years as you branch into different roles and sectors and your connections and relationships will require some nurturing over time.

Keep in mind that networking is essentially about meeting people and making connections. Some will be people you will learn from, some may offer you opportunities, and for others, you will be the one providing support or opportunities.

At Digital Innovators, we teach our students the importance of networking and building meaningful relationships in their professional life. In our experience, the most valuable networks are those built on strong communication and collaboration. Through our skills training, we prioritise these skills which our students practice with their peers and with employers during their live business projects. Find out more about our programmes here.

You can find some more useful information on networking here.

This article was written by Bronia - Communications and Business Development Assistant

DI Discussions

Are we missing out on great talent?

The first impression of a job applicant often comes through their CV – assuming, of course, the employer or recruiter sifts through applications themselves, and not with the help of CV screening software.

The use of CV screening software, or Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), is incredibly common, especially within large-scale businesses as well as recruitment agencies, mid-size organisations and even some small businesses. This means that applicants’ CVs and accompanying documents are filtered before landing in the hands of their potential employer.

Research shows that the average job opening attracts 250 applicants and up to 88% of them are considered unqualified, meaning it would take hours – if not days – to review these manually, with only a small quantity actually proving relevant to the role. (1)

These systems are designed and used to make the recruitment process more efficient and can ultimately save time by filtering out “irrelevant” applications by setting a number of criteria and requirements for applicants’ CVs, applications, and cover letters to meet.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that so many organisations have moved towards CV screening software to streamline their recruitment process, including more than 95% of Fortune 500 companies. (2)

But what are the potential issues associated with using CV screening software?

Whilst this system definitely has it benefits for businesses looking to recruit new talent, it also has its downfalls.

This process measures applications based on quantitative characteristics – such as grades, experience and relevant keywords. Many applicants have become savvy to the systems in place and often litter their applications with buzzwords to get through the initial screening, even if they don’t apply to them, meaning that “irrelevant” or unqualified applicants can pass through the system – possibly in the place of those who actually are qualified, but didn’t organise their application in a way that meets the software’s requirements.

By prioritising these quantitative characteristics, this process also fails to recognise the qualities of the person behind the paper. Even if someone has 5-10 years of experience in a certain sector or role, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are good at it or have the right interpersonal skills to work well within your organisation or within that specific role.

Whilst one applicant might have 7 years’ experience and a masters in a relevant field, someone with less experience and a lower level of education could have skills which are better suited to the role at hand, which the former applicant does not. However, this more suitable candidate could easily be missed due to the prioritisation of efficiency and time-keeping.

Research by Schmidt and Hunter suggests that only 16% of a person’s future success can be predicted by the jobs they’ve held in the past, whilst if you know someone’s personality, their potential success within your company is 2.5x more predictive than relying solely on their CV. (3) Thus, relying on keywords and buzzwords to filter CVs based on relevancy (in terms of past experience and education) to the role might work against the desired outcome of finding someone perfect for the role.

So, how do we make sure we recruit the right people on to our teams?

We need to ensure that our workforces are filled with the right people with the right skills – especially as we navigate an ongoing skills shortage.

The research cited in this discussion suggests that employers and recruiters need to think carefully about which process works best for them and what steps can be taken to prevent these brilliant potential employees from falling through the cracks. After all, organisations are built by the people within them, so it is essential to have the right people on our teams.

Often, great employees do not come to a company as a ready-made, full package. Usually, they come full of potential and an eagerness to develop and learn. So, how do we recognise this in our recruitment process without compromising efficiency? If we accept there is a role for ATS’s, what can we, as employers and educators, do to help candidates navigate these systems successfully and authentically? And what other processes could we adopt to attract a more diverse workforce that will help us build effective teams that can bring challenge as well as momentum to our organisations?

Clearly the CV is only one element of recruitment, but as it’s often the first foot in the door, it’s in everyone’s interests to make sure candidates are given the best chance to tell their story and employers the opportunity to spot the right talent for their business.




Employer’s Perspective

What do employers look for on applicants’ CVs?

CVs can be really tricky to get right. Every employer and organisation has a different method of sorting through CVs and depending on the job description, they will be looking for different things in each application.

To get an insight into the mind of an employer when it comes to looking at CVs, we spoke to Mick Westman, CEO and Founder of Digital Innovators.

What three things do you look for when reviewing applicants’ CVs?

Personality. When I’m looking at applications, I’m trying to see the person behind the CV. So, I look for for anything in a CV that can give me an insight into who they are and the type of person they are. After all, we employ people not pieces of paper.”

“I’m usually drawn to a CV which stands out visually. This doesn’t mean it needs to be a creative CV, but one that hasn’t followed a conventional format. This links back to my search for the applicant’s personality, which can be reflected in the format of their CV.”

“Whilst reading CVs, I’m looking for that “wow” moment. What makes this person’s CV stand out from all the others I have read? What unique experience do they have which I wouldn’t have seen before? What is the one thing on their CV which will make me interested to learn more about them?”

What makes you put down a CV before finishing it?

“One thing which is likely to make me put down a CV before finishing it is using too many buzzwords. Whilst it is great to demonstrate your suitability for the role, using too many buzzwords means that your individuality is lost.”

Understandably, this is a Catch 22. Whilst buzzwords make it hard to stand out from other applicants, many organisations (particularly large companies) use computer systems to sift through CVs using buzzwords. This makes sure that the “relevant” CVs are narrowed down for the final selection process.

So, our tip would be – do your research. Larger, more corporate organisations will often use these CV processing systems and probably focus more on experience and qualifications – which can be indicated using buzzwords. However, SMEs and start-ups with smaller workforces – such as Digital Innovators – are more likely to prioritise the person behind the application, and buzzwords might not be the best way to appeal to them. Therefore, you can adapt your approach to the type of organisation you’re applying for.

What do you think is the most important thing when it comes to CVs and applications in general?

“When it comes to applications and CVs, one of the most important things is providing real, tangible evidence of your skills. If you’re putting down your skills in reference to a job, make sure you back it up with when and where you developed this and how you were able to demonstrate this.”

The idea of having tangible work experience to include as evidence on your CV is something we really believe in at Digital Innovators as we know that lacking this can be a barrier to securing employment. How many times have you heard that a “more experienced” candidate has secured the role you really wanted?

So, to combat this we established the Digital Innovators Skills Programmes which, in addition to developing the core skills which employers tell us they want in their employees, provides young people with real-life work experience with leading employers in the West Midlands.

“In addition to this, any recommendations or comments from previous employers go a very long way. These provide further evidence of your skills and attributes listed on your CV as what you’ve said has been backed up with the word of a reputable employer.”

So, there you have it – an insight into an employer’s thoughts when looking at CVs.

For more tips and tricks on CV writing, job applications and more, check out our previous issues of The Stride. To find out how you can gain work experience evidence for your CV by working with leading employers in the region, have a look at the Digital Innovators Skills Programme.