Gamifying real life to get youth inspired and employable: the AbilityNet Tech4Good digital skills finalists

Can a young person use the same kind of skills they use to catch a Pokemon, to find a job? And can you teach digital innovation on a sustainable food farm? Finalists in the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards Digital Skills category believe you can.

The list of five finalists includes DigitalCity, based in Norwich and Bristol. Think PokemonGo for digital skills - this city-wide trail for young people and their parents, connects them to local digital businesses, helping them find out what skills they need and what careers are on offer.

“A young person looking for a career they are inspired by, can simply pull out their phone during #DigitalCity week (half term) and through the interactive online map, plan a route to engage with potential employers,” says founder Kieran Miles, Head of KakeCo, the organisation behind the initiative. He was uninspired by the lack of development in career support for young people, which hadn't changed since he left school over a decade ago.

Digital fabrication tech and sustainable food

Alongside DigitalCity is FabFarm! Based in Derry, N Ireland – a digital aquaponic farm social enterprise developed by creative youth organisation the Nerve Centre and operated digitally by disabled students.

Students do an accredited training programme in Digital Fabrication & Design. Building a commercial aquaponic farming unit, they then grow produce to sell to local restaurants and markets.

Digital Fabrication technologies like 3D printing are rapidly impacting upon the employment market but accredited training is still relatively rare. The FabFarm! project addresses this with an area of the workforce that suffers from chronic unemployment.

young boy holding wires and a maker club event

The winners

The winning entry in this category needs to show it is identifying and delivering the skills that people will need in the digital age, engaging with the learners in innovative ways and ensuring inclusion so that everyone can benefit equally from the learning activities provided.

Last year the award went to BBC micro:bit - a pocket-sized computer being given free to every pupil in Year 7 in England and Wales, S1 in Scotland and Year 8 Northern Ireland, to inspire them to get creative with digital and develop core skills in science, technology and engineering.

The finalist list 2017 is very strong once again, and includes MakerClub BrightSparks (a session pictured above) programme for young inventors from disadvantaged backgrounds and #techmums in London which trains mothers from deprived areas and with English as a second language in skills such as coding.

Digtial inclusion mission

Completing the list is One Digital Partnership, which has trained 11,000 digital champions across the UK in 12 months to combat digital inclusion - working with the fact that five million people in the UK have never used the internet and are locked out from doing business, leisure, shopping, communicating and using essential government services. 

Sue Black of tech mums pictured smiling at Tech4Good finalists networking event

MakerClub in various locations around the UK challenges the fact that children from lower income families have poor access to technology and significantly less chances of entering into a STEM (science, tech, engineering and maths) job. At the same time, 47% of digital companies say the education system isn’t meeting the needs of business.

The BrightSparks programme finds children with the potential to shine by working with local school ICT co-ordinators and conncecting them to local digital companies to work on tech projects.

Changing the game for excluded mums

In London, Techmums has had great results with dramatically improving women's confidence using computers, smartphones, iPads and Raspberry Pis to Arduinos. They cover everything from app design to social media - whatever the mums are interested in.

Those involved have gone back into education, started or improved their business, got jobs or simply end up feeling more empowered with technology and able to help their children with school work.

Support can be simple but game-changing for those involved. One woman, who runs a school uniform business in London’s East End says the project changed her life by teaching her how to add attachments to emails.

“She realised that she could take photos of her samples on her phone and send to customers rather than her son having to take parcels of samples across London,” says founder Dr Sue Black (pictured left at the Tech4Good finalists event).  Twenty-five years ago Dr Black found herself and her four children in a women's refuge before going on to get a PhD in software engineering and making it her mission to digitally empower other women.

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