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Magherafelt NRC students pilot app to improve young people’s employability prospects

Students at Northern Regional College in Magherafelt are helping to pilot a new software programme aimed at improving young people’s employability.

Belfast based online learning solutions company DAMGEO is developing an app to provide digital careers support service for young people aged between 11 and 18 years. KLEOS is designed to improve young people’s employability, particularly those with ASD.

Funded through the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) and supported by the Department for Economy (DfE), it provides a toolkit to identify available jobs that match students’ abilities. By learning from their system interactions, the programme will offer personalised support and guidance, cognisant of their specific needs, to help them secure employment.     

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Feedback from the students will be used to identify and solve any challenges and glitches before the app is commercially launched.  

Belfast based online learning solutions company, DAMGEO developed KLEOS to provide digital careers support service for students aged 11–18-years-olds. Front row, from left: Colleen and Damien Caldwell, Founders of DAMGEO. Back row Childcare Lecturer, Katrina McCallion and Head of Inclusive Learning at Northern Regional College, Jennifer McFadden.

Damien Caldwell, Co-Founder and Digitalisation and Web Consultant for DAMGEO, and previously Head of Digital Learning and Transformation at Northern Regional College, explained how the project evolved.  

“In 2019, the SBRI released a call for businesses to come up with proposals to help support young people with ASD into paid employment, which was a concern identified by DfE.

“Following a competitive tender process, we secured funding to carry out research which in turn lead to the development of KLEOS.”

“The software is suitable for 11–18 year olds and will provide additional support for young people with ASD,” continued Damien. 

“KLEOS can shape learning for people with special needs. Based on their interactions with the learning content, it will provide them with contextual support, motivation and de-stressing techniques.  

“Getting into the employment market can be difficult but for someone with ASD it is even more difficult. Many autistic people are capable and willing to work, yet the number of young people with ASD in meaningful paid employment is shockingly low. Only 21.7% of autistic people are in either full or part-time employment, even though the majority want to work,” he said.

He added that while some people with ASD may lack social and communication skills, employers should look beyond the limitations faced by people with ASD as many have incredible skills and talents with a lot to contribute.  

“People with ASD can bring unique qualities and diverse perspectives to the workplace but, since social interactions can be challenging for them, many don’t even get past the interview stage. KLEOS is designed to help them get over that hurdle.” 

According to Damien, as career guidance is often limited because of scarce resources, KLEOS will also provide careers teachers and advisors with a dashboard summary of valuable data so they can help their students make more informed decisions on career choices and different employment options are open to them.   

 DAMGEO was established by Damien in 2017 and after two years, his wife Colleen joined the company as a consultant.   They have drawn on their combined experience in both the education and digital technologies sectors to develop KLEOS.

Before joining Northern Regional College as Head of Digital Learning and Transformation, Damien worked as a Digital Education Consultant for US software company, VERINT.

Colleen previously worked as Human Capital Management consultant with software development company Kainos. Both are familiar with the challenges of introducing new software into a work environment.  

“The pilot release of KLEOS is a significant milestone for DAMGEO and we hope that young people, particularly those with ASD will be able use it to access and complete the learning content so they can get the jobs they want and will enjoy,” Damien continued.   

KLEOS will be piloted by Transtition2Work students at Northern Regional College’s Magherafelt campus from February before being expanded to Childcare and Health Care students..

Jennifer McFadden, Curriculum Manager of Inclusive Learning at the College, said: “The app will be such a great help to all students, especially our Transition2Work students who are preparing to progress to employment later this year.”

Transtition2Work is a one-year full-time course for students who may experience learning difficulties, including those with ASD. It prepares them for employment and/or further education courses.  For further information, go to Northern Regional College website.