Working at DYW North East gives me plenty of opportunities to support young people of all ages, so I was really pleased when an invite to Ellon Academy’s business challenge themed S5 induction day event arrived in my inbox from Niall Corsar (Ellon Academy DYW Lead).

The aim of the day was for the entire S5 year cohort (150 students), in groups of 5-6, to take an idea for a product or service that will benefit the school or local community from concept to finished business plan in the space of approx. 5 hours, then present their idea in front of an audience of their peers, teachers and business advisors with each house group having a winner. They would then enter a Dragons Den style ‘pitch off’ when they are back in school and the winning pitch would win a sum of money for their chosen charity.

I’d been asked to be one of the business advisors, I won’t lie, I was a bit nervous, turns out, I shouldn’t have worried, there was plenty of support on the day and a great mix of business owners and industry sectors represented.

Once we were shown to our rooms and allocated our groups, the day got under way. It was all very quiet to start off with, but that soon changed, we watched as different group members started to contribute. There was ‘The Project Manager’, they were the most vocal, taking charge of the business plan and the allocation of tasks, ‘The Creatives’, who took responsibility for the marketing materials, advertising and posters and then most importantly, ‘The do’ers’, those who were happy to contribute and be part of the team and action the ideas put forward. It was really interesting to see the different characteristics coming out as they got more into the task, great to see young people improving skills like communication, team building and leadership, coming together to discuss some amazing ideas and producing excellent business plans.

There were many varied and wonderful ideas, examples included:-

An App for managing the school timetable that also allowed teachers to email homework assignments and a graph that was accessible to parents which told them how much of the homework was complete. It was sponsored by sports companies and gaming companies looking to sell their brands to the students and this made the App free to use for all students.

An electronic pen that held a student’s unique registration details which sped up the process each morning at school and it also carried the number allocated to them by the Scottish Examination board so when they sat exams, the system would recognise who was in the room via a sensor on the door. The pen was also able to open doors in the school that were electronically locked for security reasons.

A ‘bike hire’ type idea whereby bikes were left in various places in Ellon, including the school, so that residents and school children could use them to get around, aim was to improve mobility and use more environmentally friendly transport. Payment was made using an e-card.

A stationary supplies vending machine which would be installed at the school, it would contain pens, pencils, rubbers, rulers, calculators, post it notes, etc, all reasonably priced. All money made would fund the restocking of the machine.

A monthly subscription snack and food service, this was designed to offer students an alternative to school dinners, with healthy eating options as well as ‘food from around the world’ themed weeks.

As one of the business advisors, I was expected to support the groups projects and answer any questions they may have, things like ‘what would be the best way to fund this project, a loan, advertising revenue or sponsorship?’ ‘Should we use local produce to help support local businesses or go for cheaper suppliers further afield (more profit for the school)?’ and ‘Can you help us solve our staffing issue?’.

When it came to deciding the winners, it was a tough call, so many great ideas. But in the end each house produced a worthy winner.

Cheyne – Ellon Academy School Planner App to replace the paper school planner/homework diary

Forbes – A school planner app (again)

Keith – Staff & pupil car washing/bike washing service

McDonald – Charging Stations for mobile phones/laptops

Sinclair – ‘Queue’ app – an app which will allow your phone to be buzzed when there is a table available in the canteen so you do not have to queue.

All in all it was a fantastic day and a great new experience for me. Its reassuring to see that our young people are well behaved, confident in their own abilities and shaping up nicely to become the skilled employees and entrepreneurs of the future.

Developing the Young Workforce North East Scotland (DYWNES) is an Aberdeen based Scottish Government funded organisation set up to engage with business and industry and encourage them to connect with local schools in order to build sustainable relationships. This will enable young people to take part in various employability related activity that will help prepare them for life after school.