“I have been trying to figure out what I want to do for the last two years, now I know its VR. When can I come and visit you?”. Quote of the Day
This year’s Digital Day connected students and the digital industry across the UK and beyond. But have those connections made any practical difference?
Like Christmas we had the excitement of the build-up, the thrill of the day, and now the annual festivities of Digital Day are done for another year. This year, we had involvement from many schools and agencies, spread widely across the UK.
Schools and agencies spanned the UK, from Leith to London, Cardiff to Camberwell and Bury to Bangkok (no really). We’re still collating the data and collecting the opinion of all those who took part but Twitter, initial chats with some of you, and our own experiences on the day have seen a number of themes emerging from the day. They’re not scientific. They’re certainly not empiric. But they do represent a sort of ‘gut consensus’, and one that already has things to teach us about the way our young people relate to digital, and to the industry.
1. The digital skills base isn’t as low as we might sometimes fear
It’s easy to groan about the skill level of new entrants to the industry. I’ve heard “What are they teaching them?” so often I’m thinking of getting it made into a badge. But Digital Day shows that lots of the building blocks are there.
Agencies report that the level of understanding of emergent tech such as VR and AI is strong (and reaches significantly beyond the ‘ain’t it cool’ stage). A remarkable number of students knew about wireframing and were able to have a good go at it. And there’s a natural level of skill with computers that means picking up even unfamiliar tools doesn’t take long. Certainly, many student groups were able to put together plenty of prototypes and brands despite being unfamiliar with specific concepts or tech.
We also saw an encouraging level of softer skills and traits vital to the industry. Creativity was there in abundance, as was the ability to use familiar tools (like apps) to solve unfamiliar problems.
The takeaway? It’s time to work more closely with educational bodies so that, rather than focussing on the skills that new recruits lack, we bolster the skills students are getting, and help fill in the blanks a little more. Which leads us nicely to…
2. What happens in IT needs to reflect what’s happening in the industry
Perhaps it’s inevitable that schools are likely to focus on where tech has been, rather than where it’s going. After all, the tech or computing teacher is a teacher, not an agency exec. But there’s little doubt that there’s room for the curriculum to move closer to what the industry requires, so it better prepares students for digital careers.
We’ve had numerous reports of students, during Digital Day, taking a working lunch to maximise the opportunity to nail their briefs, so there’s a clear willingness and enthusiasm to engage, and our agencies appear to have been impressed with the level and quality of thinking. But as an industry, we could be doing more to build links with educational establishments. After all, how can they know what the digital industry requires if we rarely (if ever) tell them?
Digital Day, together with BIMA’s newly established councils for universities and young talent are perfectly placed to build that understanding.
3. There’s more to ‘digital’ than digital
‘Digital’ within schools remains the domain of the computing and tech departments. Yet by the end of Digital Day, many students had had their eyes opened to the possibilities available to them.
They were discovering the role of digital in film. The possibilities of travel in capturing footage for VR. How essential maths and physics are to next gen robotics. The value of English in a great campaign.
We also saw young, natural project managers and creatives show their stuff – and there’s something incredibly rewarding about being able to tell them that all those skills they’ve been demonstrating today – there’s a career in that.
If Digital Day teaches us anything, it’s that we have a very long way to go in a) demonstrating the sheer breadth of opportunities in digital and b) removing the distinction between digital and everything else.
4. The power of digital to develop other valuable school and workplace skills
As the above demonstrates, Digital Day isn’t purely about the ‘hard’ skills that enable a digital career. It was great to hear feedback from teachers and department heads that the day had provided a great opportunity for students to organise their time, manage their teams, explore their creativity and drive projects to a successful conclusion.
One respondent told us
“The teachers were really pleased at how it encouraged different groups of students to work together, and it really helped us form a relationship with the department at the school.”
5. Where’s the girl power?
I need to be careful not to overegg this, as we don’t have the full feedback picture yet. But if there’s one frustrating aspect in the evidence we’ve seen so far, it’s this: girls are bringing some of the best ideas to the table, and some of the lowest levels of confidence in putting those ideas across. It’s one thing to be self-deprecating. It’s another to completely talk yourself out of perfectly good ideas.
Perhaps it was peer pressure. Perhaps it was natural teenage awkwardness, but it’s something we need to explore further and, if girls are getting less out of Digital Day than boys, it’s something we need to address.
It’s an amazing thing to see the light go on. Quote of the day (so far) was “I have been trying to figure out what I want to do for the last two years, now I know its VR. When can I come and visit you?”. The VML team can feel particularly proud of that one.
It’s great to see teachers and school principals getting involved and seeing the difference the day can make. It’s great to see our students’ enthusiasm over lunch and the energy that transmits to other students not involved in the day. It’s fantastic to hear that, in low achieving environments, digital is inspiring people who aren’t easily always inspired. And it’s heartening to see that schools involved for the second, third or fourth time are now doing prep beforehand to ensure students get even more from the day (and an even better shot at winning the big prizes!)
Perhaps the above demonstrates the most important element of all in Digital Day. Because you can’t close a digital skills gap unless there are people in the pipeline with the enthusiasm to get the skills to make a difference.
Same time next year?
So we pack Digital Day away for another year, feeling positive and energised by the experience. Will we do it all again next year? When you receive comments like this one (from Lisa.Blythman-Wood at VML), how can you not?
“I feel more committed to the BIMA Young Talent Council and how we make positive change for the future of our industry. If today’s students are a cross-section then, then the industry is in imaginative minds and hands. I for one can’t wait.”