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Students build bridges and self-confidence as Skills Academy gets underway
Tuesday, 2 October, 2018

New college students have been partaking in a tailored week long Skills Academy programme at Solihull College & University Centre. Students on nominated courses at the college are asked to attend Skills Academy as part of their induction. The academy takes a different approach to learning, focusing on engaging young people and honing their basic skills rather than academic achievement. The aim is to raise student’s confidence, self-belief and employability chances whilst creating can-do attitudes through a variety of tasks.

Skills Academy runs for four days for each group from 9am-4pm. The academy runs over 4 weeks of group rotations. At the end of the period, learners have the opportunity to take part in the full programme, based on their Flexibility, Adaptability, Attitude and Resilience.

The scheme is run at the College with Digital Innovators Ltd, a social enterprise business. CEO and Founder Mick Westman acknowledged the need for the scheme after working at BT, talking to employers. ‘I noticed that there were university educated students being taken on that seemed to have minimal life skills and practicality’, he states. After facing bullying at school for not being an academic himself Mick noted that young people were being unfairly labelled and realised the value of coaching and supporting all of the skillsets necessary in young people. ‘We have a vast diversity of students who come through our doors at Skills Academy, a number of them have special needs, or special circumstances too. Employers weren’t necessarily getting the right talent straight out of university’. Mick knew if he could work alongside the college and employers he could create a platform where students could learn in an environment where they were guided and mentored before employment alongside their college courses.

‘We wanted students to utilize not only practical skills but emotional intelligence too’. The team run a curriculum, connected with employers and mentor the learners through a weekly Talent Lab session, where they discover more about themselves. Partaking in a number of projects they form an innovation hub. The Talent Lab prepares students for project work and team work in business, they take part in app creation and a number of other tasks.

The programme is a rare situation in bringing businesses and employers together at the very start of a student’s college journey to work on mentoring all different skills. ‘It’s so important that employers come into the college as students go out to them so they can see what we are doing’ Mick adds. Solihull College is currently the only college working with the team to run this pre-apprentice programme scheme. The programme that has been successfully running for 2 years now already has many success stories.

Dan Patterson, 16, a Media Level 2 student attending the Academy this week adds, ‘This for me has been about understanding levels of teamwork, building confidence, figuring out who we are, and our strengths and weaknesses. The past 6 months I haven’t been in school but now I want to be here. I’ve had to grow up very quickly as I assist my parents, who are deaf, in bringing up my younger siblings, so my journey hasn’t been an easy one. This has been a unique opportunity where you have to put yourself forward and you are acknowledged for that’.

At Skills Academy students have already concluded psychometric testing, learned teamwork, collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking all delivered through practical exercises. Psychometric testing on day one helps establish interests, motivations, likes and dislikes.

The students leaving College after the initiative are now increasingly prepared for the working environment, learning business, teamwork, examining their sense of self and human behaviour, learning to collaborate and communicate. The students at the end of Skills Academy and those going forward on to the Talent Lab have a renewed sense of self, an enhanced self confidence in their ability and greater employability. Many local employers claim they are having difficulty finding skilled future employees.

Beth Selwood, Vice Principal Quality & Curriculum comments ‘ The Skills Academy offers real ‘value added’ experience and learning for these students, and their feedback so far has been highly positive! ‘

Digital INnov8ors is offering a unique opportunity on the 1st November for employers to spend the day at the college and experience first hand this unique approach to learning. If you are interested please contact Claire Toher, Claire@digitalINNov8ors.com.