The ‘Uni of HAF’ digital employability skills programme – ‘Digital Tycoons’ – was initially conceived as an innovative means of engaging more higher stage secondary age students in the HAF programme. This was in turn predicated on the idea of offering an aspirational employability and digital skills programme that would inspire young people in Years 10 and 11 to develop and apply an entrepreneurial mindset and work in teams to design their own social action company based on identification of local community need. Using an innovative and sustainable blended learning model developed and delivered with leading business and charity business partners, the programme was therefore designed to:

• Build self confidence and creative thinking
• Develop core literacy, numeracy and digital learning skills within directly relevant vocational contexts
• Embed wider employability, leadership and inter-personal team-working and presentation skills
• Offer coaching and mentoring opportunities through a range of business and education partners
• Contribute directly to the local community through youth voice
• Result in additional, alternative accreditation through the ASDAN Customised pathway

Rather than focusing participant recruitment on schools, this instead was coordinated through six community groups across the City, whose leaders became key partners in subsequent programme development and delivery. This proved transformational.

The programme was launched over 2 days of face-to-face delivery at Aston University to six teams of 40 young people from these groups on 24-25 April, coordinated by the HAF Schools Lead (a former secondary headteacher) and digital learning experts from ed tech company Aspire 2Be and digital learning charity Digitall, supported by the Community Leaders working alongside their young people. During these two days the young people worked in teams to identify the focus of their company, its vision and mission, key roles and responsibilities and develop the skills associated with them through a blended and interactive series of workshops, supported by a digital learning platform designed by Aspire 2Be. Participants also experienced an ‘Inspirations’ presentation and workshop from an Amazon volunteer, who partner Digitall. At the end of day 2 the teams presented their initial work and received feedback on next steps, which would culminate in a presentation to an expert panel on the ‘graduation’, third day of the programme on 27 July – also hosted at Aston University.

In the two-month interim period between day 2 and day 3 the teams worked with their community leaders using the learning platform to further refine their company concepts and presentations – a key feature of the programme which ensured continued motivation and engagement. Final presentations took place as planned to a panel which included a local entrepreneur and Professor Monder Ram, Director of the Centre for Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship.