The college, a high-tech institution based in the West Midlands (UK), currently teaches over 6,000 16-18 year-old students and 2,000 adult learners. Many students who are enrolled in a further education course typically start applying for roles and have their first interviews at the end of their final year.
With fewer and fewer entry-level positions available in the market and employers expecting work-ready job candidates (Hill, 2021), there is mounting pressure on educational institutions to make social skills training part of the curriculum. This has only been aggravated in the last two years by the lack of funding and resources that have particularly affected colleges operating in underprivileged areas, such as Sandwell College.
A further education college that leads by example
For Sandwell College staff, it was clear: a future-proof solution was needed. Sandwell College started exploring new ways and emerging technologies to help its students successfully transition into the workforce when the pandemic first hit.
In 2016, the college launched the ‘Fab Lab’, a high-tech maker space and digital innovation hub, equipped with the latest technologies, ranging from 3D printers, to laser cutters and virtual reality headsets. The Fab Lab’s aim has been to offer not only a valuable resource to its own students but also to expand its reach and collaborate with staff, businesses and local employers.
In early 2021, Sandwell College partnered with Bodyswaps and piloted their Career Mindset Development VR solution with a select cohort of students to help improve their soft skills for the workplace.
"What surprised us with using Bodyswaps is that this technology doesn’t only work from an educational point of view but the students are also excited to use it. They want to come back and keep using it. It exceeded my expectations."
Anne Scrimshaw, Fab Lab Manager, Sandwell College
Bodyswaps uses virtual reality and AI to allow students to practise their interview techniques in a safe environment. Its unique learning format gives students the tools and confidence to apply newly acquired skills. As the name suggests, students can ‘swap bodies’ in VR and watch themselves back to see how they come across in situations such as job interviews.
"I like the fact that you can hear and see yourself, see your posture. That does help because these are not things that you’d be conscious of knowing normally. You might just think ‘oh yeah, sitting like this is ok’."
Dean, student, Sandwell College
Building on success
The results of the pilot were overwhelmingly positive - with over 80% of students recommending the training to peers. As a result, Sandwell College has rolled out Bodyswaps’ entire employability series, including its latest addition, the Job Interview Simulator, to more and more students. The training programme has helped to improve students’ interview skills significantly - with 84% of students reporting they feel more confident ahead of interviews.
The programme promises to have an even greater impact given the college’s plan to make VR soft skills training available to all students at the college by the end of 2022. In fact, Sandwell College is looking to build a dedicated ‘Bodyswaps Experience’ area, allowing students to book in and practise for job interviews inside training booths for maximum privacy. And that’s not it. Ben Haddock, Emerging Technologies Demonstrator, forecasts that VR will form an integral part of college training in the future - with further communication, leadership and EDI (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion) related skills training, available both for students and staff.