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'We're worried about a lack of future capacity': How IBM plans to address digital skills gap at The Drum’s Do it Day

The UK is facing a major digital skills gap, posing a huge threat to businesses in the technology industry. At The Drum’s Plan it Day and Do it Day events, IBM will challenge participants to directly address this issue with the creation of a wearable tech app to engage and captivate young people, with the aim of raising awareness around careers in Stem-related subjects. The Drum speaks to IBM’s Alison Orsi to find out more about the brief and how agencies can get involved.

Despite being highly savvy with tech and better connected than previous generations, earning them the nickname ‘digital natives’, most young people today don’t understand what technology offers in terms of career paths. A 2014 study commissioned by Nestlé suggested that almost four out of five 14-16 year-olds would consider a career in a Stem related industry (science, technology, engineering and maths), yet over half of those surveyed admitted they knew very little about the type of jobs on offer.

To tackle this issue, IBM has partnered with The Drum to address the problem at its Plan it Day and Do it Day events, which will bring together participants from across the marketing industries to share ideas, and more importantly, come up with solutions to brands’ business problems, while at the same time using marketing as a force for good.

Alison Orsi, vice-president of marketing, communications and citizenship at IBM, tells The Drum the company is concerned by a lack of future capacity, and sees it as essential to get children involved and excited about tech.

“Stem skills are becoming increasingly important to pretty much every single industry and profession so that we as an economy can maintain our record of scientific discovery and innovation, and start to think about how you can apply science, tech and engineering to some of our societal challenges or keep pushing on from an economics competitiveness perspective – so we need more kids to get involved.

“The biggest challenge for us as employers is we're worried about a lack of future capacity. There are some reports that would suggest the UK is lagging behind our counterparts in building these core skills and some estimates predict we could be up to 40,000 graduates short every year moving forward,” she adds.

IBM is just one of the companies taking steps to address this issue, having recognised the detrimental impact such a shortfall could have on its future business health. At the top of this agenda is engaging young people in getting excited about Stem careers, by highlighting just how technology infuses everything around us – including design, fashion and wearables – and how they can become part of that.

How will it work?

On Do it Day, IBM wants to raise awareness of Stem careers by choosing to focus on the possibilities around wearable tech and the internet of things, and particularly how these platforms can be used to foster creativity – in this case, in fashion. “We've chosen fashion because we thought it would be fun, but it's not a whim. It’s an up and coming area of innovation – it’s capturing the imagination of the developer community as well as something that the children can relate to,” says Orsi.

So how does this translate on the day itself? The aim of the challenge put forth by IBM for Plan it Day, to be executed on Do it Day, is to create an app that will allow children to engage in designing an IoT garment. "It will provide them with the tools and building blocks they need to do that, so it becomes a fun, interactive learning experience, says Orsi.

Responding to the challenge, members of the marketing industry taking part in Plan it Day should expect to come armed with fresh thinking on how the app might work – according to Orsi, there are lots of ways in which the agencies can help IBM with the challenge – for instance, identifying how the reach could be expanded or what creative treatments might be used. In addition to this, IBM's internal agencies, including Interactive Experience, will be present on the day to support the challenge and share their approach to "design thinking" and agile methodologies, to enable the app to go from insight to execution.

"We'll be providing facilitators to help people walk through the process of turning ideas into something practical and actionable – thinking about who are the end users for what you're trying to do, how to understand the audience, simplify the outcomes that you're trying to deliver and get there collectively in the most efficient way possible.”

We want agencies to get involved in helping to solve IBM's brief. Think you're up to the challenge?For more information on Plan it Day and Do it Day, where brands including Trinity Mirror, Belkin and Bozza will look for help in solving business problems and creating positive change, visit the event website.

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