Powering the digital imagination

By Tracey Herald, Head of Community at O2

It’s London Tech Week – celebrating London’s global position as a hotbed of tech innovation, business successes, entrepreneurship and creative talent. Yet it’s fair to say that technology is only as interesting or useful as we make it – without technical skills to build and create, or the imagination to apply digital solutions in smart ways to make our lives better, it’s basically just a bunch of coding and wires, right?

A recent report from the Tech Partnership underlines the challenges facing us in building a digital talent pipeline in the UK that’s fit for purpose and can keep pace with digital innovation. The report outlines the major skills shortages around core areas of digital competency which have the potential to drive economic and business growth, including cyber security, mobile and cloud computing and big data. Whilst 99% of businesses taking part in the report claim that they expect to maintain or increase the number of technical job opportunities available in their companies, 96% stated that missing key technical skills was a problem, and 24% of employers cited a lack of training as a major reason for skills gaps in their workforce.

At O2, digital innovation in products and services is a key part of surprising and delighting our customers, and enabling them to get the most from their digital world. We’re proud members of the Tech Partnership and we’re working hard to inspire a new generation of digital innovators to join our business and help us apply technology in new and imaginative ways to meet the needs of our customers. Unlocking the skills and talents of a generation of digital natives is not only helping us to innovate our own products and services, but is also creating fresh thinking about how we inspire, train and build a talent pipeline for the future.

Take Lora and Anne, who joined O2’s early careers programme, Talentum, and decided that they wanted to take action to engage and inspire more young women into tech and digital careers. Together, they built a business case to create and launch Think Big TechStars, a programme which engages girls aged 8-11, inviting them to visit our business, meeting our interns, grads and apprentices, learn about digital careers and get hands on experience of coding and digital making. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with many girls reporting a significant shift in their perceptions of digital business and career opportunities.

Another of our grads, Gareth, is currently working with our O2 franchise stores to pilot a new traineeship programme, which will enable young people to undertake digital skills training and a work placement in one of our 450 O2 stores across the UK. They’ll have the chance to shadow our talented O2 Gurus and store teams, building valuable work skills and gaining a digital qualification to help them onto the digital career ladder.

Inspiring careers in digital technology is part of our commitment – but we’re also tapping into new ways we can use technology as a force for social good.  With support from O2 Think Big, and working in partnership with Age UK and Sheffield University, Ben is using Oculus Rift technology to collect stories and memories of childhood in Sheffield, and recreate them in a series of virtual rooms, which will capture sights, sounds and recordings from older people, re-telling their earliest childhood memories.

Investing in a new generation of talented, passionate and committed young people is not only helping us to develop a more innovative digital business – they’re also having an impact on the way we think about growing our future talent pipeline – and critically, they’re helping us to re-imagine how we can use digital technology to create a fairer, more sustainable world.