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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.

Food vs fabric – why digital skills are needed in virtually any industry

It’s not just technology-led businesses that need digital skills. Virtually every industry relies on at least some digital skills, particularly when you consider that these skills extend to things like digital communication.
 
To help illustrate this, I caught up with my friend Louise works for one of the most famous bread companies in the world – Kingsmill – as an Assistant Brand Manager. In addition to my work for Digital Innovators, I also work for an independent local patchwork and quilting business Cotton Patch, as the Marketing Executive. Whilst the companies are very different and the roles entail different day to day tasks, there are a lot of core digital skills that we both rely on.
 
I asked Louise to list some of her core tasks so I could compare our two job roles and the skills needed. Here’s what I discovered…
 


1) Read, understand and present data

Data analysis may sound a bit dull, but it’s an integral part of understanding what is working and what isn’t. For both Louise and I, we need to be able to take the data from our marketing projects and clearly convey to other members of the business the successes and the areas that need improving. For Louise, this is maintained through regularly creating and updating excel spreadsheets as well as presenting these results in presentations and meetings. And for me, it’s done (slightly more casually) through sharing the stats directly from our social media and scheduling platforms to my colleagues with a written/vocal explanation of what they mean and what we can take from them.
 

2) Communication

One of the most essential and widely recognised skills across all industries, communication is key in both of our marketing positions. As it’s a small business, my role includes things like photography or social media scheduling that would be outsourced in a larger company. However, I’m still constantly in communication with the business director and the website coordinator and sometimes even customer service, to ensure the marketing message is consistent. For Louise, her communication works on a much larger scale. She has to organise photographers and agencies as well as her onsite team to ensure large campaigns follow through smoothly and convey the intended message. Small or large scale, communication is an integral skill in all successful businesses.

3) Website Management

Something Louise and I have both played a part in during our employment, is the management of the website. Websites are ever-changing and more than ever are becoming an indispensable asset for all types of businesses. They need to be up to date and on brand, meaning a variety of different jobs have the responsibility to understand website management – even if you’re not directly making the changes yourself.

4) Content Creation

A largely creative side to our jobs, both Louise and I work to come up with initial campaigns and content ideas. Louise creates a strategy and directs others to make her vision happen. For me, I do the planning, capturing and scheduling but on a much smaller scale. Both of us follow through from start to finish and have to have an understanding of the trends and processes of digital and social content creation in order to think outside the box and reach our companies goals.


It’s clear to see, for Louise and I to be successful in our roles, we both rely on the same core skills that we’ve moulded and adapted into different careers, many of which are the digital and soft skills taught on the Digital Innovators Skills Programme.

It’s these integral, core skills that we will carry with us to future opportunities in different industries as our careers progress. So even if your first job isn’t your first choice, don’t forget the importance of learning transferable skills that will help you take the next steps in your career. 

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

What jobs use digital skills?

At Digital Innovators we not only coach our students in digital skills, but we also give them the real-world experience of applying those skills on projects provided to us by our employer partners.

One of the questions we are frequently asked by prospective students is: if I join one of your programmes, what kind of roles and opportunities will this open up for me? Before we answer that question, it’s worth considering exactly what we mean by digital skills.


The Digital Innovators Skills Programme training curriculum is informed by a framework [1] developed by the Joint Research Centre (JRC). This framework classifies digital skills into five key areas:

  1. Information and data literacy. Browsing, searching, filtering, evaluating and managing data, information and digital content.
  2. Communication and collaboration. Interacting through digital technologies and devices as well as understanding the rules of ‘netiquette’ and how to manage your online digital identity.
  3. Digital content creation. Developing digital content as well as integrating and re-elaborating that content. Understanding copyright and licensing issues as well as the basics of programming.
  4. Safety. Protecting devices, your personal data and privacy as well as health, well-being and the environment.
  5. Problem solving. Creatively using digital technologies to solve problems by understanding needs and identifying technological responses

Having looked at this list of essential digital skills, you are probably beginning to see just how important they are, not only in the world of work but also to manage everyday tasks. These skills can be used to conduct tasks such as online shopping and banking, searching for information, storing and organising files such as photos and documents, interacting with government services as well as consuming, and writing content for, social media.

So – what kind of roles could you find yourself taking on if you were to attend one of our programmes? Well, let’s take a look at some recent projects undertaken by our students and explore what skills they demonstrated in tackling them.


A project with the NHS to build a virtual operating theatre to train staff.

The NHS is by far the largest employer in the UK with 1.4 million people on its payroll. The NHS is always looking at ways they can introduce new technology across all of its services to not only improve health outcomes of its patients but also for ways to help improve the working and learning environment for its staff.

Digital Innovators has partnered with University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust to develop an innovative virtual operating theatre which allows medical staff to move around the theatre and interact with doctors and nurses who will ask them questions as part of their training. This involved filming inside an actual operating theatre (pre-pandemic) using a 360 camera and then importing the film into a software application to program the interactive elements. This can then be viewed either on a computer screen or via VR headset.

Students working on this project had to collaborate with NHS staff in producing the film then develop their content creation skills to edit this and add the interactive elements. This also involved them in building their creative skills as well as becoming more confident in presenting their findings to the project sponsors.

A project with Vanti to tackle a market research challenge.

Vanti is a Birmingham-based technology company that specialises in the built environment, making buildings and spaces better for the people who use and occupy them. The company is developing a range of smart technology products to help their clients create a flexible, productive, and efficient workplace. 

In order to build the right products for the market and define what products they should develop, Vanti engaged students from our programme to perform an eight-week market research project that looked into what products existed in this space and come up with recommendations on where the company should focus their development efforts.   

This project required our students to follow an agile approach and define a number of sprints which would deliver successive levels of detail in their research. It required collaboration between the students and Vanti, developing content using Microsoft Office products as well as applying what they had learnt in design thinking, critical thinking, presentation techniques and creative thinking to critically appraise the market and produce their findings in ways that would resonate with Vanti’s staff.

Did you know that, on average, jobs which require digital skills pay 29% more than those that do not?

A project with Psytech International to build a well-being and journaling app.

Psytech International is one of the world’s leading developers of psychometric tests and software for the workplace. Their assessments measure a range of different aptitudes and abilities such as general, critical and abstract reasoning, personality and values as well as occupational interests and learning styles.

Journaling, as well as being a powerful wellbeing tool is also a great way to help people recognise their progress and show future employers how they have developed their capabilities and experience over a period of time. The purpose of this project was to take journaling to a new level by building a modern, web-based and/or app journal for learning, personal profiling and development and well-being. 

The students on this project, completed extensive market research, before building a prototype app that focused on encouraging people to keep a journal that was linked to their strengths profile (one of the assessments available from Psytech). The prototype also included features such as suggested learning activities, inspirational quotes, suggested books to read, and tips on how to improve motivation and decrease stress.

This was another project that really showcased our students creative abilities as well as their collaboration, presentation and content creation capabilities.

A project with Birmingham City Council and the West Midlands Combined Authority to improve engagement with unemployed people in the region.

Birmingham City Council (BCC) and the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) are running a number of programmes that identify people not in employment, education or training (NEET’s) and point them to education and learning opportunities to improve their skills and provide them with opportunities for getting jobs in the digital sector. Given that this is exactly the area Digital Innovators is operating in and we have students who are the target market for these learning opportunities this project was the perfect fit for one of our cohorts of students.

The project involved researching and analysing the websites of the WMCA and BCC as well as those of training providers. It also looked at their social media presence and marketing campaigns. It then attempted to try and better understand their market reach and communication strategies and to devise ways to improve the promotion of funded skills programmes for young people through better collaboration of all involved parties. 

This was basically a research project so employed the collaborative, communication and creative skills of students as well as testing their communication and presentation skills when delivering their findings. As well as presenting the results of this project to both BCC and the WMCA the students have gone on to present at board meetings at both of these organisations giving them valuable experience in working at this level.


All of the projects cited above are examples of the tasks you could be asked to do in existing roles on the job market – roles which require the digital skills we outlined earlier. Due to this real-world experience with employers, a number of the students have gone on to get jobs, either with the employers they have worked with or in other related areas.

Digital Innovators helped me gain confidence and discover my strengths. Without the Digital Innovators programme I never would have discovered Vanti.

Sharanjeet – Digital Innovators Skills Programme Graduate who secured full-time employment with Vanti.

If you are interested in developing your digital skills and gaining work experience with industry leaders so that you can stand out in an increasingly competitive job market – check out the Digital Innovators Skills Programme or join one of our weekly Taster Sessions.


[1] https://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC106281/web-digcomp2.1pdf_(online).pdf

This article was written by Pete - Design & Technology Director

 

Employer Spotlight – Taran 3D

As part of the Digital Innovators Skills Programme, we work alongside some of the most innovative, creative and successful employers to allow young people to gain vital work experience and boost their employability.

A brilliant example of the employers we work with is Taran 3D – a 3D design consultancy which specialises in creating interactive experiences using immersive technologies.

We spoke to Taran Singh, Managing Director at Taran 3D, to find out more about the driving force behind the agency and to gain an insight into how they operate. We also discussed the key qualities sought after by employers as well as Taran’s opinion on the importance of digital skills in an increasingly competitive job market.


First things first – introduce yourself!

“We are a creative 3D Agency based in Birmingham that produces amazing interactive content for touchscreens and immersive technologies through our ever-evolving 3D, VR or AR capabilities.

Taran3D is built on an innovative team who enjoy collaborating with clients to create immersive experiences through interactive communication.

We work with a range of clients to engage their audiences by bringing their projects to life. We delve into their business to show how we can improve their output, usually in ways they would never think of. Digital creative storytelling is at the heart of what we do and we combine these skills with cutting edge technology to produce unique and compelling interactive content.

Our clients cover a range of industries including arts, manufacturing, IT, architecture, heritage, social enterprises and public bodies.

As a small business we have grown significantly over the past year, winning our first international clients as well as our first award (Outstanding Start Up Business of the Year in the Asian Business Chamber of Commerce Award Winners 2020).”

Can you explain some of the key job positions in your organisation?

“When I started Taran3D I wanted to build a company and team that is passionate about what we do whilst keeping a balanced work/life approach to ensure we get the best out of everyone.

Whilst I am the MD of the business there is no formal hierarchy at Taran3D – working with likeminded people has huge advantages and allows us to work seamlessly as a team that is respectful of each other’s roles.

During 2020 the team grew significantly with the addition of new developers, a business manager, an experienced teacher/trainer and a marketing consultant giving us more scope to help build the business. I also have mentors that provide me with their knowledge and insight, helping me to develop myself as an employer and creative.

Whilst the team grows, our core principles and approach stay the same of being a passionate, flexible, nurturing company that provides strong mentorship, career development and a thriving environment.”

What advice do you have for young people in search of work or looking to develop their career prospects during these uncertain times?

Training is key during these uncertain times. So, to stay ahead of the competition, we recommend immersing yourself in as many workshops, events, training sessions as possible to keep your knowledge up-to-date. Our region is a hotbed of digital innovation and there are events taking place each week (most for free) that young people can access and attend.

By getting involved in training, webinars and online events it’s a great opportunity to make connections and grow your community. Build yourself a solid network within the industry and put time into growing and developing those relationships.

In your opinion, what are the most valuable skills and qualities that are sought out by employers?

Enthusiasm, initiative, creativity and the willingness to learn new skills are key qualities we look out for.

If we find someone who always gives that bit extra to a project, that is the type of person we will remember and want to collaborate with again.

In our industry there can only be a certain amount of hand holding so we really like people that push themselves and can use their own initiative. Be it their way of thinking, how they approach a project or push their creative boundaries within their field of expertise. These people make a good impression and will always stick in our mind.”

What services do you offer young people and how can people access them?

“We work in partnership with some amazing organisations like Digital Innovators and Tin Smart Social to help support young people break into the industry. This can be through workshops, online tutorials or placement opportunities for students to work with us on live projects.

We are also a member of STEAMhouse, Birmingham’s centre for innovation and creation and are proud to collaborate with them on their VR Birmingham series. These insightful events offer anyone with an interest in VR & AR access to a selection of amazing industry experts who share their expertise and advice.

As a member of STEAMhouse we have been fortunate to have access to a whole world of support, mentorship, training and new connections. The support they have given Taran3D has been instrumental in where we are as a business today.”

How important are digital skills in the workplace and how do you think COVID-19 has impacted this in your sector?

“The lockdowns and lack of physical interaction has made us all more tuned into digital in some way. Most businesses throughout the pandemic have reacted to digital skills in some format, no matter what their industry. From selling online to webinars to zoom meetings – it’s touched everyone in some way and has paved the way for accepting a more digital approach in the future.

Digital is our life and we have always been 100% committed to investing in our skills as a team to ensure we keep up with the latest tech developments. Taran3D was set up to be a flexible working business so we were lucky that when the pandemic started it didn’t affect our working environments or our approach to work or winning new business.

Our innovative approach to research and development of immersive tech has been so important to where we are today as a brand. Areas that we were discussing years and years ago such as game design being used in commercial projects have come into everyday play in the industry and we have worked hard to stay ahead of the game and offer our clients the very best in immersive technology.

This is evident in our partnership with the Sikh Museum Initiative on the Anglo Sikh Virtual Museum, a touring virtual museum that allows the public to enjoy beautiful relics digitally reimagined. This is the perfect example of a project that works successfully online as much as in real life.”

Where can we find more information about Taran 3D?

“We regularly update our blog at www.tarad3d.com and you can follow us on social media @taran3d.”


Thank you, Taran, for taking the time to speak to us and offer such insightful information and advice!

Some of our students are currently working on a project with Taran 3D to create dynamic art for our community. During this project they are delving into skills such as augmented reality and 3D design using Blender, design thinking and digital marketing.

With every Skills Programme comes new collaborative projects for our students. Click here to find out more about the Digital Innovators Skills Programme, the employers we work with and the exciting projects and training you can take advantage of in order to kickstart you career.

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

Digital skills training – participant’s perspective: Unnati

We caught up with one of our Digital Innovators Skills Programme participants, Unnati. She tells us how she found the programme and what she was able to gain from the experience.

What were you doing before you started the programme?

I had recently graduated and was working part-time in retail.

How did you find out about the training?

I had received an email from my university’s Graduate Careers network with a link to the website and a brief description of the course structure. I looked on the website at the programme information and registered and got a call from Pete who explained a little bit more about what the training entailed.

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

The main thing that made me join the training was the opportunity to gain new skills, as I love being able to constantly learn. The project management element allowed me to build on existing skills I had gained on my placement year and apply them to a different context.

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

I really enjoyed the training. It helped me gain confidence as I was able to overcome my fear of public speaking and speak at the Birmingham Tech Week Event.

“It helped me build on my existing skills and I liked that there was a continued emphasis on applying the training to real life situations. This really helped me develop my skills in negotiation, something I had no experience in previously.”

Were there any barriers or obstacles you had to overcome?

I had to make sure that I did not rush parts of my speech as I have a tendency to talk fast so I made sure I overcame that before I had my final presentation.

What impact has the training had on your life?

The training has really improved my confidence which has had a positive impact on my life in general as well as in my abilities.

What are your plans for the future?

During the course, I learnt about how to use certain functions on Excel to deliver our final project and because of this, I am hoping to build my knowledge in Excel further as I think it’s a really useful platform.

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

I would say it’s a great opportunity to build skills and confidence and would recommend it. The first few weeks are a great way to learn new things about yourself and the project is a great way to apply the skills and challenge yourself.

Towards the end of the programme, Unnati secured a new job as an E Learning and Publications Assistant at the NSPCC. Congratulations Unnati!

It’s never too late to start an apprenticeship…

Often when we think of apprenticeships, we think of 16-18 year olds leaving school and starting an apprenticeship in their desired field – typically in engineering, quantity surveying or something similar.

However, anyone over the age of 16 can apply for an apprenticeship and there is no upper age limit. So, there’s nothing stopping someone who is in their 20s, 30s, 40s or above from pursuing an apprenticeship! Anyway, who said there was a time limit on our development?


If I’ve already been to college and/or to university – can I still do an apprenticeship?

Yes – there is a range of levels which apply to apprenticeships. This means that people at all different capabilities can find a path which suits them.

For example, you can apply for a Level 2 apprenticeship which provides a qualification equivalent to GCSEs, or you can go up to a Level 6 or 7 apprenticeship which is the equivalent to a bachelor’s or master’s degree. This means that if you already have A Levels or even a degree, you can get an apprenticeship in the same field by applying to a specific level.

If you already have a degree in biology, for example, you can apply to a masters-equivalent apprenticeship to develop further in this field. Alternatively, if you have finished your degree and want to switch fields, you can apply for any level apprenticeship in a new sector!

So, not only is age not a barrier when applying for apprenticeships, but neither is your experience or education. Depending on your areas of interest, desired level and career aspirations, there will be apprenticeship that will work for you – you just need to find it!

Did you know that between 2018 and 2020, one third of Digital Innovators Skills Programme students went on to secure apprenticeships, degree apprenticeships or traineeships? Find out how our Skills Programme can lead to an apprenticeship opportunity here.

Why should I consider an apprenticeship?

Now we’ve established that it’s never too late to start an apprenticeship, you may be thinking… should I do an apprenticeship?

Well, there are many other positive aspects associated with doing an apprenticeship…

  • You are able to learn and develop at a new skill whilst earning a consistent salary (which is the equivalent to the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage depending on your age and location).
  • Apprenticeships revolve around hands-on experience – you will study for 20% of your working hours, meaning that more of your time is spent learning on the job.
  • Apprenticeship length can differ between 1 and 6 years.
  • Job security – whilst an apprentice, you are a contracted employee on a pay roll, who is entitled to paid holiday and bank holidays, etc.
  • Some employees will pay for you to complete a degree whilst doing your apprenticeship.
  • According to recent surveys, after finishing their apprenticeship as many as 85% of apprentices will stay in employment, with two-thirds (64%) remaining with the same employer.
  • And much more…

What’s next?

A good first step is to visit the official government website for apprenticeships here to find out more about how to become an apprenticeship, what’s on offer and discover apprentice success stories.

Additionally – from 8th-14th February, it is National Apprenticeship Week! So, keep an eye out for #NAW2021 on social media as there will be events, webinars and celebrations throughout the week to highlight the impact and advantages of apprenticeships. You might just find the right apprenticeship for you!

Subscribe to The Stride – Digital Innovators’ fortnightly fix of tips, techniques, advice and challenges for job seekers and career changers – direct to your inbox. We cover topics such as – job hunting during a global pandemic, how to make the perfect CV, how to combat feelings of self-doubt whilst unemployed, and much more.

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

Unemployed and lacking in self-confidence? Read on.

Being unemployed is scary, there’s no two ways about it. I’ve changed jobs countless times – but quitting or being let go, without another job in place, is nerve-racking and can feel overwhelming. Personally, those unemployed, uncertain times in my past have stuck with me. I’m soon to enter unemployment again (as I’m moving to another country) and I wanted to share how I’m overcoming the self-doubt and lack of purpose I’ve felt in the past. 


Lack of confidence and self belief 

What is the problem with this lack of self belief? This leads to me only sending off my CV if I can tick off 99.9% of the desired attributes on the job description…

Confidence is something we dive into in a lot more depth during the Digital Innovators Skills Programme but I want to touch on it here, specifically regarding applying for jobs. I often feel that if I can’t do everything on the job description then there’s no point in applying, because I’m clearly ‘not good enough’.

But the truth is, ‘The requirements listed in job descriptions are guidelines, not hard and fast rules. You don’t have to satisfy every requirement or meet every qualification listed.’  If you feel you have a solid understanding of some of the attributes listed and that the role and company are a good match for you, then you should apply! After all…

84 percent of companies are willing to hire and train a candidate who lacks required skills.

Remember, soft skills like communication, adaptability and work ethic (highlighted in your CV and during your interview) will be taken into account alongside the practical skills you have previous experience in. From your soft skills, employers can gauge whether you have the right attitude and personality for the job as well as if they can train you further down the line. How else would we up-skill and develop our careers?

If you’ve convinced yourself a job is out of your league, consider that ‘data suggests that matching 50 percent of an ad’s requirements would be just as good as matching all of them’. Imposter syndrome affects all. However, the outcome of actually applying for the job will either be you get it or you don’t. If you don’t apply, you definitely won’t get it. So do yourself a favour and apply, you might be surprised by what you achieve.


Lack of purpose 

Why do I feel like this? Due to my uncertainty around the types of job roles I’d like to apply for…

When you lose your job, not only is your usual source of income gone, but also your personal work relationships, daily structures, and an important sense of self-purpose.

Leaving education or a job might enable you time to consider the vast array of other opportunities out there! But with this, for many of us, comes the realisation that you have no idea what you want to do next. You might feel passion and desire for something but can’t put your finger on exactly what it is. Thus, you begin to question your purpose. 

Whether you’re seventeen, thirty-five or sixty-eight, a change in circumstances can create anxiety around what exactly you’re ‘meant’ to be doing next. But there are key things to appreciate when you’re feeling this way…

Firstly, you may not know it yet, but this feeling of unknowing is telling you that something needs adjusting or something new needs to begin. Maybe your passions or priorities have changed. Maybe you’re ready to discover a new skill. Whatever it is, you’re on a path of discovery. So, try to see this stage as the start of something, rather than an uncomfortable ‘inbetweeny’ bit. 

Secondly, It’s cliche to say but it’s not just about the destination – finding your next job – it’s about the journey. It’s about learning about yourself during this downtime. It’s about trying different employers, job roles and salaries. It’s about work experience and personal projects. It’s about pushing yourself to enter situations that feel difficult, but coming out the other end having learnt and grown as a person. Those are the moments that will enable you to discover your purpose(s) – so try and embrace them whilst you’re taking this next step. 


You’ve got this!

Now, we’ve established that you don’t need to have a PHD, 6 years experience and 4 volunteer roles alongside your last 9-5 in order to feel confident when applying for jobs. In addition, it’s important to remember that the word ‘career’ actually encompasses the journey towards finding a job as well as the time you’re employed, you can begin to take the next stride towards your next career goal.

Make sure your CV is up to scratch by downloading our CV Tips Workbook here.

Subscribe to The Stride for job hunting tips and careers advice direct to your inbox.

This article was written by Liv.

Interview Insights – What did you do during lockdown?

Coronavirus has affected everyone in different ways – whether you are finishing college or university, working from home or unemployed and looking for work, or you are on furlough or have been made redundant – everyone has had to adapt to the current situation.

We’re now approaching the anniversary of the first lockdown in the UK (where on earth has the time gone?) and are still experiencing heavy restrictions due to the new variant, and the circumstances we found ourselves in a year ago might have changed slightly. Perhaps you were on furlough initially and have now been made redundant, or you have now finished your studies and are struggling to find work as a direct result of the pandemic?

For many of you, the task of securing a job may be at the forefront of your mind. In light of this, we wanted to offer some advice on how you can tackle what we predict will become the most popular interview question of the decade… What did you do during lockdown?


So, what did you do during lockdown?

Before we delve into the ways in which you could answer this question, it’s important to note that it is completely understandable if you have struggled to find a job or have found it difficult to be productive 100% of the time during lockdown. We are living through completely unprecedented times and it can be very challenging to feel motivated whilst the world is scrambling to conquer an invisible virus.

That being said, employers will undoubtedly be interested to know how you spent your time during lockdown and what you were able to achieve from the confines of your home.

There are many ways you can answer this, depending on your circumstances and what your interests are.

  • If you were studying or working from home, talk about this and how you managed this. How did you structure your time? How did you communicate with others? How did you manage distractions or other priorities? What was the outcome of this?
  • If you have been searching for work, talk about this process and the ways in which you’ve tried to improve your prospects. Have you changed your methods of job hunting? Have you revamped your CV and cover letter layouts? How did you cope with setbacks?
  • Whilst unable to secure full-time employment, have you taken any online courses or taken part in online internships? Where there are gaps in your CV, there are numerous online courses you can take to develop your skills. For example, the Digital Innovators Skills Programme provides 3 weeks of skills development which allows you to harness employability and digital skills, which you are then able to apply in an 8-week work project with a local employer. Alternatively, you can find specific online courses on LinkedIn Learning, Skillshare, Udemy, and more.
  • Rather than thinking directly about seeking work experience or external skills development opportunities, maybe you directed your energy towards your hobbies. Do you have a blog where you write about your interests? Do you have any hobbies? – are you a painter, a coder or do you play sports? How have you improved these during lockdown?
  • Maybe you took a completely different approach and dedicated yourself to helping the community during such a difficult time. Maybe you helped deliver shopping to the vulnerable or maybe you took part in some fundraising to help the NHS, charities or food banks? Or perhaps you helped out at home?

Task:

In light of this discussion, try to think of three ways you have dedicated time to improving and developing yourself – this might be professionally, academically, physically or mentally.

Once you have identified these, think about the skills you were able to practice with these actions, such as self motivation or problem solving, and how you would demonstrate these to an employer.

If you are struggling with this task, don’t worry. There is no deadline on self-improvement – you have plenty of time to reflect on these methods and see which works best for you.


Why is all of this important?

It is the aspect of trying to improve your prospects which is something that employers will hold in high regard. Employers are aware of the difficulties of job hunting, especially since the advent of coronavirus, so they will understand if there are significant gaps in your CV. However, they will be interested to see how you have tried to compensate for these gaps and how you have made use of your time in a way that shows or enhances some of your innate skills and strengths.

Whatever you have done during lockdown, there are undoubtedly some skills that you have developed, and these should be highlighted in your interview. Regardless of your methods of development – throughout the pandemic you will undoubtedly have been adaptable, resourceful and resilient. Employers seek out these core skills and they seek candidates who are creative, motivated and can use their initiative – so make sure you discuss how you were able to demonstrate them during the pandemic.

The point of this blog is to help you realise that there is never one right answer to an interview question, especially this one. The COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly difficult and if this question crops up in your next job interview, take it in your stride and talk honestly about your experience and the things you did to occupy, entertain and improve yourself, as well as the challenges you faced and what you did to overcome them. Employers, despite seeking out specific skills and experience, are almost always more interested in the qualities and attributes of the person they are speaking to.


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Packed with tips, techniques and inspiration to boost your CV and help you on your path to employment, our first two issues have already tackled tapping into creativity, developing essential work skills and techniques for taking 2021 in your stride. 

To subscribe to The Stride and receive career tips and free downloadable resources direct to your inbox, click here

Fear you’ve missing out? Catch up with Issue One and Issue Two now.

Reflections on 2020

It is undeniable that 2020 will be a year that none of us will forget. It is also only right that we take a moment to remember the incredible people who continue to give so much to help the communities they represent as well as those who have paid the ultimate price in helping others. 

Despite the challenges we have all faced at the hands of the coronavirus, I wanted to take some time today to think about the positive things that were achieved last year, and to reflect on how these will impact employment looking forward into the new year.  

In my view, one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic has been the way that communities have pulled together, collaborating in ways not seen for several generations. We have seen huge amounts of resilience, flexibility and ambition as people responded to the trials of living in a changing world defined by challenges not previously seen. Individuals who have shown creative flair and ingenuity in finding ways of lifting spirits, communicating with loved ones, and adapting new ways of working.

Digital is now the norm – not something to be fearful of, whilst the courage and positive attitude displayed by health professionals and other key workers has given us all confidence. The ambition to beat the virus is best exemplified by the scientists working with education and applying themselves to create a vaccine in record time.

At Digital Innovators we to have had to adapt like everyone else and are proud to say that we have managed to stay focused on our ambition of supporting young people and their future careers at this critical time. We were hugely grateful to be named Solihull Business of the Year in 2020 by Solihull Chamber of Commerce in recognition of this. 

Growing employment challenges

The uncertainty of the last year has resulted in young people having even fewer opportunities as employers’ confidence continues to fall. Studies have shown that young people are amongst those most affected by the pandemic, and therefore this is a time when students and employers need more support than ever. 

As employers start to come to terms with the ‘new and ever changing normal’, we are excited to see a growing number of projects being requested looking for digital solutions using the skills and creativity that young people can bring to the workplace.

By equipping students with the skills demonstrated during the pandemic we believe that we can help them stand out from the crowd and be ready to take their place at work confident in the knowledge that they have the critical skills that employer’s will value.  

None of us know what challenges 2021 will bring but we can look forward and prepare for a world that will continue to change. Digital Innovators’ ambition this year is to ensure that as many young people as possible are prepared for work. We need future employees that are flexible, adaptable and resilient and who have the ability to use their inherent digital skills. We are creating an alternative talent pipeline available for employers to take on using the governments traineeship and apprenticeship schemes. 

If you are as excited as we are about preparing the future workforce for your company, want to find out more, or join us on our mission please contact us at makeadifference@digitalinnovators.co.uk 


For more information about Digital Innovators and our mission, click here.

You can find out more about our Skills Programme here.

Digital Innovators WMCA-funded Skills Programme – Highlights from Cohort 1

The first cohort of participants on our Skills Programme, funded by West Midlands Combined Authority, have now completed the Skills Programme! Our course includes an eight week work experience project, working with local employers.

With the next cohort due to start on 25th January, we wanted to highlight the incredible work produced by our students during the first programme. 


Project 1 – Birmingham City Council and West Midlands Combined Authority

Team Excel – Unnati, Lemarl, Kristine and Imaan – worked directly with members of Birmingham City Council and West Midlands Combined Authority and were tasked with identifying and resolving the problems which inhibited effective engagement with young people. The motivation behind this project stems from the fact that despite the clear benefits of participating in programmes such as the Digital Innovators Skills Programme, some of them have been unable to reach young people who would really gain from them. 

This innovative team conducted research and examined their findings closely, identifying issues with website navigation, lack of awareness of programmes and lack of collaboration between stakeholders as key problems preventing the desired engagement with young people. Team Excel then went on to present solutions that will make the process of engaging with young people easier, including an in-depth report, suggested collaborations and a spreadsheet to aid navigation, leaving the employers thoroughly impressed. 

“We’re getting a brilliant blend of problem-insights and solutions, combined with audience awareness and technical solutions, and they are so positive – they listen, respond, adapt, challenge… fantastic!” 

– Tara Verrell, Birmingham City Council.

As a result, Team Excel were invited by Birmingham City Council and West Midlands Combined Authority to present their findings and suggested solutions to their colleagues on the WMCA Digital Skills Programme (DSP) Board on 12th January. 

Congratulations Team Excel!


Project 2 – Psytech

The Psytech Team included Tai, Haleemah, Saheyba and Saffron. Their project with Psytech centred around the concept of using journaling as not only a wellbeing tool, but as practice which could improve personal and professional development, and how this could be incorporated into a software. 

After researching the benefits and common practices associated with journaling, the team then went on to conduct some competitor analysis, research into product branding and market research. Their findings were then compiled into the production of an app prototype which incorporated Psytech’s Career-Fit analysis and would enable the user to practice journaling – including listing their achievements, setting personal and professional goals and completing activities which would help them to recognise their own progress. 

The team’s efforts were clearly evident throughout this project and came to fruition in their final presentation, with a well-thought-out product proposal, with research to accompany it and to explain the reasoning behind design and features. 

John Kilvington, director of Psytech UK and Ireland, spoke very highly of his experience working with the team:

“That was one of the best examples of practical, innovative and creative thinking I have had the privilege to witness for a long time. It is extraordinary that they have gained such insight on a very complex area in such a short time.”

Well done team!


Project 3 – Vanti

Team Vanti – Sharanjeet, Adeesa and Kiera – were tasked by Vanti to conduct some thorough market research ahead of the launch of Kahu, their suite of technology products designed to support a flexible modern workplace. Staff at Vanti had tried to complete their market research for some time, but lacking the capacity for such an enormous task, they turned to Digital Innovators. 

Over a period of 8 weeks, Team Vanti delved into this challenge and began an in-depth analysis of competitors and their products. Their findings were compounded into an extensive report and accompanying spreadsheet for references and additional information. The results compared price ranges, product offerings, publicly displayed profit of companies, core features of products, extra features, the level of engagement with the competitors, their website features and more.  

The staff at Vanti have expressed their joy at having the Digital Innovator’s Skills Programme students take on this challenge as it will be vital in terms of pinpointing Kahu’s unique selling points in comparison to its competitors, as well as pitching and selling, deciding price points, and choosing areas to develop into.  

“We love working with Digital Innovators. We have been super impressed with the depth and breadth of research the students have undertaken, as well as the speed in which they’ve picked up an understanding of the market.”

James Garrington, Vanti

Great job Team Vanti!


The next Digital Innovators WMCA-funded Skills Programme begins on 25/01/2021! Don’t miss your chance to work with leading employers and kickstart your career!

To find our more about our Skills Programme and the projects you could be involved in, or to register for an upcoming course, click here.

Using music to power creativity

From time to time, no matter what our task, we all experience the dreaded creative block. Following on from our recent blog where Pete discusses his top tips for unleashing your creativity, the team at Digital Innovators began thinking about our own techniques for tapping into a creative mindset.

Kobi Noah, Digital Innovator’s Assistant Technician and graduate of the Digital Innovators Skills Programme, has shared how he breaks through those pesky creative blocks using music.


Kobi’s Tips

“Creative blocks suck. As an 18-year-old who prides myself on being creative in everything I do, there is nothing more frustrating than finding myself staring at a screen or a piece of paper – waiting for that spark in my brain to drive my hands to create something. 

“As humans, I believe everyone has one thing that they are artistically passionate about. If you are reading this and feel that you cannot relate, I assure you that with time and experience, you will find that one hobby or skill which will trigger that creative spark within yourself.

“So, what do I do to break through a creative block, when running laps in my head figuring out my next idea? I listen to music! 

Using music to tap into your creativity

“Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you should listen to some spiritual or psychedelic melody that will completely change your perception of life. All you need to do is listen to a song that makes you feel good inside and let your imagination run wild. Hell, I even imagine my own little music videos to go with the songs! A simple, well-produced instrumental track becomes a song about a little robot trying to find another robot in an apocalyptic wasteland (inspired by the start of the movie Wall-E, of course)!

“My point being, there is a lot to be said for taking some time to let yourself ignore the brick wall that is stopping you from creating. Try to relax and listen to other songs you enjoy or feel strongly about. This can be such an effective way of sparking that flame within ourselves and by doing so, you might just conjure up the perfect idea.

“When you’re looking at that piece of paper or that computer screen, trying to no avail to come up with a new idea, find that musical masterpiece you may have taken for granted and let its subtle tones guide your creativity.”


Unlock your potential and unleash your skills with our Skills Programme

Creativity is just one skill you will learn to harness on the Digital Innovators Skills Programme. To find out which other skills you can develop in just 11 weeks, click here. The next course begins on 25th January. So, don’t miss out – register now.

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