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Student Skills Festival returns to Chelmsford

Skills Fest 2023

Over 1,000 Year 8 pupils from Chelmsford secondary schools recently attended an outdoor festival to learn more about their career options.

The Chelmsford Skills Festival returned to the city on Friday 30 June 2023. Hosted on the Writtle University College campus, the event gave students aged 12-13 a fun and hands-on taste of different jobs before they choose their GCSE subjects.

Students from Chelmer Valley High School, William de Ferrers School, The Boswells School, Hylands School, Great Baddow High School, Moulsham High School, and Beaulieu Park School attended the Skills Festival, alongside 68 teachers.

Exploring future careers

In Year 9 of secondary school, students pick the subjects they wish to study further for their GCSE qualifications. The Chelmsford Skills Festival is specifically aimed at students in Year 8 as it’s an opportunity to discover the qualifications needed for different careers. They can experiment, play, interact and get a feel for different industries which can help inform the GCSE options they choose. Spending time interacting with the exhibitors at the Skills Fest can open their minds to future opportunities and broaden their horizons.

Baeulieu Park School Students With CCC Councillors
Students from the Beaulieu Park School standing alongside Nick Eveleigh, CEO of Chelmsford City Council, Cllr Marie Goldman, Deputy Leader of Chelmsford City Council, Cllr Simon Goldman, as well as a wicker hare made by local artist Deb Hart

Nick Eveleigh, Chief Executive of Chelmsford City Council, was keen to create an event that was different to a traditional jobs fair:

“The aim is to give the event the feel of a festival, so the students don’t feel that they’re being taught, but they’re instead actually out there experiencing the different skills used within the workplace across a variety of job roles, through hands-on activities. Children are getting to have a go at virtual reality, DJ mixing, willow-weaving, chemistry experiments – and much more. They are exposed to things they wouldn’t realise are real jobs, and that’s what makes the festival special and unique.

“When I’ve been to careers events in the past, they’ve been in dark school halls with parents attending too. The children have gone off with their friends and the parents have been left talking to people in suits about jobs, which aren’t of any interest to the children. This is about informing children of what’s out there and giving them the opportunity to look at careers that perhaps they didn’t know existed.”

Nick Eveleigh, Chief Executive Officer, Chelmsford City Council

Interactive exhibitions to capture imaginations

More than 50 local businesses and organisations gave up their time for free to exhibit at the festival. Their interactive stands engaged the students in activities to highlight the various skills linked to those job and employment sectors.

The exhibitors ranged across multiple job sectors, and all rose to the challenge to come up with an activity that showcased their industry whilst capturing the minds and imaginations of teenagers. Examples of exhibitions included:

  • NHS Foundation Trust – they provided a model skeleton and challenged the children to piece the bones together and participate in an X-ray challenge
  • Greater Anglia – encouraged children to test their skills at a Nintendo Switch driver simulator game and participate in speed accuracy tests. They also got to dress up in Greater Anglia workwear and take a polaroid picture to see how they’d look!
  • British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI) – got the children doing hands-on paving demonstrations using a variety of different paving materials.
  • House & Jackson Veterinary Practice – practicing bandaging and providing first aid for animals.
  • Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) – provided a virtual reality paint refinishing challenge, alongside a model engine with moving components to see how it all works.
  • BAE Systems – showcased computer CAD 3D printing, optical lens, X-ray imaging, machine learning and remote-control robots.
  • Titan Airways – asked students to construct an aeroplane model – with prizes for the winner.
  • Battelle – challenged to use a mechanical pipette to test their accuracy skills. Coloured solutions were provided with the challenge of measuring out exactly 10ml of liquid into a vial, 1ml at a time, then comparing to a premade example to check the results.
  • Essex Search and Rescue – they discovered how to use a defibrillator, how to recognise one in public spaces, and practised CPR on a mannequin.
  • Teledyne e2v – a VR experience exploring the inside of a radiotherapy machine, as well as engineering challenges involving designing and building a solution with card, pipe cleaners and string!

Making future Skills Festivals happen

The Skills Festival exhibitors were located in five open-sided marquees in green space on the Writtle University College campus. The location gave students a first look at a higher education facility.

With a true festival vibe, food and drink was available to buy from local food vendors on-site in stylish catering vans.

Councillor Marie Goldman, Deputy Leader of Chelmsford City Council was pleased with how well the event went:

“It’s been amazing to witness children have those eye-opening, lightbulb moments where they’ve just gone, “wow, I didn’t know you could do that, I didn’t know that was a career!”.

We also need to make sure that as a city, we have a workforce that meets the skills gaps that employers are having so we can keep so many of our fantastic workplaces and anchor institutions located in Chelmsford. Conversations about skills gaps need to happen with educational institutes, but also, we need to make sure that the children when they’re choosing their GCSE options, choose the careers needed to fill the vacancies as well.”

Councillor Marie Goldman, Deputy Leader of Chelmsford City Council
Hylands School Students Learn About Skeletons
Cllr Marie Goldman, Cllr Simon Goldman, Nick Eveleigh and students from Hylands School learning about skeletons with NHS Foundation Trust

The event this year was made possible by utilising Government UK Shared Prosperity Funding. Essex County Council kindly sponsored the transportation for each of the schools. Cllr Goldman hopes more local businesses will be keen to help the event continue to happen in future years through sponsorship:

“I’m really pleased to see how well the festival has gone and I really hope that we are able to keep doing this every year going forward. The big trick will be trying to find funds for it. If you’re an organisation in Chelmsford, and you want to help us inspire children, then please get in touch with us. Unfortunately, these events cannot be put on for free every year. So, we will need the businesses that are going to be benefiting from this, and any other organisations who believe in truly giving children choice and inspiring them, to help us make it happen in future years.”

Councillor Marie Goldman, Deputy Leader of Chelmsford City Council
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Charlotte Maltby
Charlotte Maltby

Charlotte writes about the environment, parks, recycling, business, planning, public realm and democratic services.