Over the summer holidays, 42 young people from South Yorkshire took part in a unique, five-day virtual work experience programme, Game Academy Bootcamp.
Students from 18 different schools and colleges in Doncaster and Sheffield shared goals such as, ‘identify what skills I have learnt through gaming’, ‘find out what opportunities there are available in the gaming industry’ and ’build confidence in myself’.
Some 81% of the participants, who are aged 14 to 18, want to pursue a career in gaming, yet a third said they don’t feel optimistic about their future possibilities in the world of work. The Bootcamp was Doncaster’s response to the rising number of young gamers, their interest in the video games and creative sectors, and the employability skills that can be developed through gaming.
Doncaster is an Opportunity Area – one of twelve regions identified as social mobility ‘cold spots’ that should benefit from the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda to improve opportunity through education. As part of Doncaster’s commitment to ensuring all young people have access to high quality education and pathways into work, the region champions partnership working both inside and outside the education system – and supports formal and informal skills development.
Lee Douglas, the Careers Hub Lead for South Yorkshire, explains how the Game Academy Bootcamp came to be, “We know from our digital careers hub, Start in Doncaster, that young people have a high level of interest in creative jobs. We wanted to help them both better understand the opportunities in the gaming sector, and see how to capitalise on the skills they develop while gaming.
“Because the Bootcamp engaged learners in a different way, we found we had a much more neuro diverse cohort than we might have otherwise expected. This is an outcome we’re proud off.”
Doncaster needed a partner to help deliver on this ambition and turned to Speakers for Schools, a social mobility charity that works with employers to deliver inspirational talks and work experiences for state educated 11–to-19-year-olds. Speakers for Schools grew rapidly in 2020, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic to move its offer online. In 2021, the organisation delivered more than 56,000 virtual work experience placements and was tasked with getting the gaming-based virtual work experience programme off the ground.
At the time, Speakers for Schools was taking part in BOOST, a six-month programme delivered by The Young Foundation, that helps organisations scale-up through making connections and forging partnerships. They reached out to collaborate with fellow BOOST cohort member, Game Academy, which has developed a cutting-edge service that surfaces and develops the digital and soft skills of video games players.
Together, the two organisations developed a unique programme that helps young people recognise the transferable skills they use when they play video games. The programme also gave insights into employment opportunities locally that could be available in the creative industries and beyond based on these skills.
Talking about the collaboration, Irina Agafonova, a Game Academy Co-founder explains, “The three partners have worked really well together to bring young people the best possible experience. The Bootcamp offered participants a great opportunity to discover their skills, drivers and career motivations based upon their time spent playing their favourite games, for example Fortnight, Call of Duty and Animal Crossing.
“Through the programme we enabled gamers to see the strategic thinking, collaboration and other skills they use every day via their console and which are so vital to the future of work.”
The Bootcamp was designed to ensure that there were speakers from Doncaster and the Sheffield City area, showing young people that roles in their dream jobs do exist locally. Yorkshire-based speakers included leaders from Grads in Games, the National Videogame Museum and Vital Culture.
Julia Massey, Local Government Strategic Relations Lead at Speakers for Schools, adds, “For students in Opportunity Areas such as Doncaster, it’s inspiring to be able to take a passion and see how it might lead to tangible career opportunities locally.
“The Bootcamp was about the importance of informal learning: recognising that learning happens in spaces chosen by the learner and not always in a classroom. If you like playing videogames, those skills can be applied in direct and indirect ways, and it is important, as a young gamer or employer, that you celebrate that.”
Like Doncaster itself, both Speakers for Schools and Game Academy are on a path of growth. The organisations joined the BOOST programme to explore partnership opportunities and look for ways to scale-up their offers.
Starting up in 2019, Game Academy has supported almost 4000 people, helping them understand and apply the power of their gaming through the venture’s analytics and online learning programmes. Collaborations, such as that in Summer 2021 in South Yorkshire with Speakers for Schools, is an important dimension to Game Academy’s future growth, acting as a personal development and career companion to video gamer players.
“Working with BOOST has supported the professional credibility of Game Academy,” says Irina Agafonova. “What’s more, the links to partners in the employment and employability sectors has provided our start-up with great new links, which would otherwise have been really challenging to make during the pandemic.”
Credibility and success
As for Speakers for Schools, coupled with an evolving virtual offer that can reach more young people at a time, the charity now plans to further invest in its schools and employer outreach functions, online platforms and programme developments. This is part of its ambition to help close the social mobility gap by linking one million young people annually to industry-leading companies, networks and experiences: raising ambitions, developing employability skills and supporting the career journeys of young people.
Speaking about how BOOST has supported these plans, Julia adds, “We very much valued being part of BOOST. The expert workshops supported us to grow as a charity, and the connections with government are important for our future credibility and therefore continued success”.
Overall, the Bootcamp collaboration shows how partnership across sectors can meet specific aims. The results are impressive, with excellent feedback and participation throughout the week. Describing the “huge boost in confidence” they gained, one participant said, “I hope you carry on giving opportunities to more young people so they can experience what I’ve gone through. It will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
BOOST 2021 has been part of the government-backed Inclusive Economy Partnership, which aimed to improve the lives of people across the UK, through partnerships. The Young Foundation continues to explore new forms of partnerships as part of legacy activities for BOOST, focussed on cross-organisational partnerships. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.