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Primary Education News
News Getting young people fluent in digital
London–based social enterprise combines online and classroom learning to tackle youth unemployment
What do you get when you mix unemployed young people with a blended learning incubator in digital skills? That's what we at Fluency, a new education technology startup, plan to find out. We hope that our unique method of training young people in the skills that small businesses in the UK need, will be instrumental in helping some of the 1.4 million young people not in education, employment or training in the UK into sustainable employment.
Fluency is an education platform helping small businesses succeed online, while at the same time getting unemployed youth into great jobs in the digital economy. The social venture started as a series of pilots funded by UnLtd and the Nominet Trust to train low income women with digital skills that are in demand so that they could become digital freelances. The Fluency platform trains small businesses with the skills they need to succeed online: social media marketing, email marketing and search engine optimisation. At the same time, the online platform and offline learning and support are used to fast-track unemployed youth into jobs in digital marketing.
We are innovating the model of social enterprise and employability training for young people in three main ways.
First, we are using the inherent skills of our young unemployed. Much has been written about our young people being "digital natives" – the first generation to grow up embedded in new technology. They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers and other digital devices. Computer games, email, the internet, mobile phones and social media are integral parts of their lives. We use this inbuilt advantage to inspire our trainees to use the web and social media in business and work-focused content, taking them from digital literacy to digital fluency.
We are also training our young people for jobs that exist in a growing sector. As much as I commend training them in creative pursuits such as film-making and the arts, the reality is that there are very limited jobs in these sectors and opportunities are fiercely fought after. Fluency demonstrates to our young people that digital jobs can be incredibly creative. Like film-making? Why not shoot, edit and optimise YouTube videos for brands. Like writing? Try copyrighting for the web or guest blogging. There are a myriad of jobs in the digital sector that are creative, in-demand and well paid. We think that Fluency will create a win-win situation for the 2.1 million small business and charities that Go On UK has identified as needing to get better at digital and our young people who need to get into work.
The second way Fluency is innovating is around the learning itself. Online learning has been around since the beginning of the web, but it has seen a huge growth in popularity in the last two years with the launch of the massive open online courses such as Coursera, edX and Udacity in the US, bringing free and open education to a global audience. But this type of learning does require a super motivated student who is comfortable learning on their own. By taking a blended learning approach, combining online and classroom learning, Fluency aims to inspire a digital mindset in our students, giving them the tools to be curious about the digital space and continue their learning journey long after the course has finished. By combining modes of delivery, we hope to be able to fast-track our trainees into jobs and scale the programme quickly around the UK.
Finally, Fluency is taking an alternative approach to creating social impact in terms of our business model. We have incorporated as a commercial company, but one with a commitment to investing our profits in helping young people. This has enabled us to harness support from investors such as Bethnal Green Ventures, an accelerator programme for technology startups working on things that matter. Bethnal Green Ventures offers £15,000 investment to 20 early stage social technology ventures per year, enabling successful applicants to concentrate full time on their start-up for twelve weeks. Without an investable legal structure, a clear revenue model and a robust financial projection, we would not be able to secure investment in the venture and we would be stuck, like many social enterprises, on the merry-go-round of funding applications.
We think that this is an exciting time for social enterprises to harness the power of technology to innovate around their delivery and business models and we hope that Fluency can lead the way and inspire many more businesses to create social impact and make a difference in the world.
Sinead Mac Manus is the chief executive and co-founder of Fluency, an online education platform.