Northern Ireland Further Education students are partnering with local companies to solve real-world business problems in an innovative drive to boost employability skills. South West College students have been working with businesses to address challenges in a range of areas.

South West College's Omagh Campus partnered with Draperstown-based tanning giant, bBold, to challenge its BTEC Level 3 IT students to create innovative rebranding ideas for the company. The EPIC project based learning initiative commenced in February 2023 and spanned several months of intense collaboration, research, and brainstorming, that culminated in a final presentation.

The project’s main objective was to inspire the IT students to explore, plan, implement, and consider new ideas using the EPIC Model as they researched, surveyed, and redesigned bBold's brand. Emily Toner, Creative and Design Manager of bBold, briefed the students about the company's objectives, and the students went on board to bring their expertise in computing, marketing, and design to bear.

The students began by conducting online and paper-based surveys, gathering primary information about local tanning habits and favourite tans. They then shifted to the core of the study, holding a focus group with local individuals, students, and the college's own Beauty students.

Using their newly acquired tan knowledge, computing dexterity, and design flair, the students spent several weeks working on innovative designs and rebranding strategies for Emily to consider. Following this, Emily was presented with the students' creations, which she described as "amazing, unique, and innovative ideas that I'm excited to share with the rest of my team."

She commended the students for going "above and beyond the requirements of the brief, showcasing great understanding of the business and marketing strategies behind the brand.” She added, “It has been a win-win for both parties, as bBold benefited from fresh perspectives while the students gained practical work experience in their chosen field.”

Gemma Dunn, EPIC project-based learning coordinator at SWC, highlighted the rising popularity of project-based learning as an effective teaching method for students of all ages.

She said: “Employers have informed us that a qualification is not enough anymore, and students need to have much more in terms of skills and experience.

“In response we have developed educational partnerships with a range of local companies to help students gain vital employability skills including problem solving, communication and commercial acumen; whilst at the same time solving real-life business scenarios. This experience will stand them in good stead when applying for jobs in the future.

““We are very impressed by the quality of the students’ work and their ability to apply their knowledge to a ‘real life’ workplace scenario, working to strict pre-determined budgets, time scales and design briefs.

It is important that young people understand that it is not just their knowledge but also their skills, creativity and attitude which matter in the workplace. I would encourage other local companies to talk to their local college when looking to build their team and develop products.”

For more information about EPIC project based learning at SWC, please contact Gemma: or see below.

EPIC - Project Based Learning