Vodafone UK taught a lesson by Digital Day students

By Rachel Johnson
29 Jul 2019

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We were blown away by the unfiltered nature of the ideas, and the creativity. Adam Butt, Head of Digital Experience at Vodafone UK.

On 27 June, a group of students spent the day with Vodafone UK product managers, UX experts and front end developers to test out their big ideas in the real world. The student team was selected from over 1700 entries into the BIMA Digital Day 2018 Vodafone UK challenge. They designed a VR experience to make shopping more fun and less overwhelming for people with autism.According to Vodafone UK, the students, from Abbot’s Lea School a special school for students with autism in Liverpool brought a unique perspective to the challenge. During one session, the students came up with 45 ideas in 5 mins. “We were blown away by the unfiltered nature of the ideas, and the creativity,” said Adam Butt, Head of Digital Experience at Vodafone UK. Butt explained that the winning work stood out because of its empathy. “Being part of the community they were designing this product for really allowed them to understand the finer detail and bring that to life with a lot of humour, and a great deal of creativity.”

Paul Davenport, Key Stage Leader at Abbot’s Lea School believes the contribution that could be made by autistic people is too often overlooked. He said, “Sometimes people with neurodiversity will look at things in a completely different way, which results in completely different ideas.”

BIMA Digital Day is an annual national day of action in November, that connects digital and tech companies with students in schools around the country. Over 5000 students took part in 2018, with that figure expected to jump this year.

Jonathan Davies, Head of Digital at Vodafone UK said, “The responsibility sits with us as an industry to make sure that young people are aware of the opportunities available to them when they leave school or college. Through the work we’ve been doing with BIMA, we’ve been able to get involved with grassroots educational establishments local to us and across the country.”

Vodafone UK was one of three Challenge Partners, along with BBC Studios and The FA. Along with winning the Vodafone UK brief, Abbot’s Lea students were finalists in the two other challenges. Having a winning team come from a specialist school sends an important message to the industry, as the digital and tech sector already has twice the UK average of neurodivergent people working in it. However recent findings from the BIMA Diversity & Inclusion Report identified that, 24% of neurodivergent employees in the tech sector have reported negative discrimination.

Davenport says, “BIMA Digital Day is important to my students, as they have autism and special educational needs. The chances for them to find different types of career is quite difficult.”

As well as barriers to people with special needs within the industry, BIMA has also found that over one third (34%) of students feel they don’t get the breadth of digital learning they need. Computing and ICT courses only offer access to a specific and limited area of digital skills, like coding, leading BIMA to warn that limiting digital education to the computer room is a blinkered approach that will damage the economy long term.

BIMA is not alone in highlighting the issue. A recent CBI/TCS report has reinforced the talent pipeline crisis, with 60% of larger firms reporting that their digital skills needs will increase dramatically over the next three to five years. Small businesses are even more desperate – with 69% reporting they will see a significant increase over the next two years.

Amanda Follit, Chair of BIMA’s Young Talent Council, says: ““We urgently need to acknowledge and address the gaps that exist in our approach to digital literacy. They have lead to a talent pipeline crisis that UK businesses cannot afford to face. BIMA Digital Day does its part by getting industry into schools to help students understand the skills they need to succeed and the opportunities that await them. The government needs to do its part by exploring different approaches to education, from classroom to peer- and community-based learning, and through the power of strategic industry partnerships working inside communities.”

Digital Day takes place on 12 November, 2019 across the UK, and is part of the range of initiatives run by the BIMA Young Talent Council. Almost 200 schools around the UK participated in BIMA Digital Day last year. Schools and agencies can sign up to take part now.

To sign up please visit the BIMA Digital Day website for more information: www.bimadday.org.uk


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