Graduate recognised among UK’s top 10 Young Digital Leaders of the Year

A Sunderland graduate whose digital strategy helped thousands of Defra staff stay connected during lockdown has been shortlisted as one of the UK’s Top 10 Young Digital Leaders of the Year.

Marcus Melton began his role as Senior Technology Innovation Consultant with Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) just before the pandemic hit, but quickly found himself introducing new and emerging technologies in areas such as Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence to 5G, in a bid to keep the service connected as the UK went into lockdown, ensuring more than 30,000 employees could continue their crucial day-to-day operations during a pandemic.

His leadership has ranged from holding demonstrations of Virtual Reality driven workshops to delivering Defra-wide chatbots.

The work has led to Marcus, 27, being shortlisted as one of the Top 10 for Young Digital Leader of the Year, which recognises the extraordinary achievements of young people, aged 16-30, in the digital transformation of their sector.

Marcus, who graduated in 2017 with a First-Class Business and Applied Marketing Management degree from the University of Sunderland, said: “It’s a real honour just to be shortlisted in the Digital Leaders awards. It’s also recognition for the work we all did during lockdown. My role is very much about future thinking and horizon scanning for technologies we can take advantage of. I run pilots and experiments with certain technologies, introduce the business to it and decided whether to go forward with it.

“When Covid-19 hit, it was about implementing the technology quickly, as Defra has thousands of employees and there were lots of different questions that needed to be answered when we were sent home.

“We implemented a chat bot, which had all of the info about Defra and Covid-19, answering 15,000 questions within just a couple of weeks, it was hugely successful.”

Marcus admits when he started his degree, he was bright but lacked direction or drive. But within four years that all changed as academics at Sunderland helped fuel Marcus’s passion for innovation and strategy.

After graduating, Marcus, originally from Louth, Lincoln, successfully applied for the Government’s Civil Service Fast Stream programme, experiencing work across a number of departments from the Home Office to Defra.

And it was at Defra where he truly found his feet, taking all of his learning from his University experience into the new role, implementing new and emerging technologies to improve the working environment in areas such as farming and fisheries.

Marcus, who has now made the north-east his home as he works from Defra’s Newcastle centre, says: “I fell in love with the University of Sunderland as soon as I visited during an Open Day. I really wasn’t sure which path to follow when I started my programme, but as I learned more about innovation and strategic thinking, improving others’ lives in the future became the focus of my career ambitions. The University really helped shape my own future and I’m truly grateful to my academics for their guidance and support.”

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