Q&A  | 

Digital training and equality, by Elisa Martín, CTO at IBM

"[...] if we want equality, we must make sure every one has access to online training".

Tags: 'Brecha digital' 'Digitalización' 'Elisa Martin' 'habilidades digitales' 'IBM' 'IBM Cloud'

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Elisa Martín Garijo is CTO at IBM Spain, Portugal, Greece and Israel, engineer, mathematician and one of the most outstanding Spanish women in tech.

She specializes in SMARTER systems and Application Integration and dedicates part of her time to mentoring and giving conferences on how technology can improve women's job opportunities and student training in general, thus promoting greater equality in society.

Among IBM's initiatives to achieve this goal is Open P-TECH: a free digital education platform with content in English and Spanish to provide young people between 14 and 20 and their teachers with the essential technological skills.

Can you give us an overview of your work?

Currently my responsibilities are divided into four areas: technological dissemination; technological consultancy to executives within the company and our clients’ CTOs; the search for innovative projects and, last but not least, supporting the development of technological talent within the company.

According to the latest EU Eurobarometer, 37% of the Spanish population never uses email and 45.3% have very low or non-existent digital skills. Is this situation sustainable, and what consequences does it have on society?

This situation clearly reflects a digital divide whose consequence is inequality. In Spain, the situation is also somewhat anachronistic.

These days we have proved that our technological and communication infrastructures allow a large part of the population to work remotely, but there is a very high percentage that does not have access to the next level. They don’t know what to do with those resources. It is absolutely a training problem.

What steps can be taken to solve this problem?

Training. Training in STEAM skills [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics] from primary school up to the bachelor level. And for this, training teachers is also essential. 

At the same time, it is essential to align this training with the demands of the industry

What is IBM P-TECH?

P-TECH is a global education model that offers students all over the world the opportunity to develop skills and competencies that will translate directly to competitive careers. 

Its contents focus on areas such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and cloud computing, professional skills highly valued in the market.

Elsa Martin

Shouldn't states themselves provide citizens with the tools and competencies necessary to guarantee equal opportunities?

For me this is an issue that regards society as a whole. As citizens, we must not only worry but also work to solve the issues to the extent of our possibilities and responsibilities.

The secret is in collaboration and cooperation and knowing how to move the ecosystem forward in an inclusive manner.

It is everyone’s responsibility. Big companies like IBM can contribute with their knowledge and the value of their people. Let’s pick it up and build a stronger education system together. Open P-TECH is a good example of this.

Is there a gap today between university education and the needs of the technology industry?

I’m going to use the word lag instead of gap. Industry evolves at a certain speed and university education at another. In addition, we are going from a very predictable context into a new and not very predictable one.

How do we design the academic programs if, when students enter the job market, the demand for knowledge will be different? There is a high volatility in the definition of the critical areas of knowledge. It is an adaptation problem that can only be solved with collaboration – universities and companies have turned their backs for many years.

 

Lithuania, Singapore or Estonia offer public access to and high speed internet in a large part of their territory. Should this also be a prerequisite for an egalitarian digital society?

I think it is desirable but not essential. People should also know how to answer the question: What is the Internet useful for? The increase in demand generates competition and the markets adjusts. In my opinion, training is much more important.

Likewise, during the pandemic there was talk of the need to offer Internet scholarships to make sure all students have equal opportunities. What is your take on this?

We must get used to treating digital infrastructures as a basic good.

We have shown that online training is viable and effective. Also that, in certain circumstances, it can be even better than face-to-face training and, therefore, if we want to continue maintaining our equality standards, we must guarantee access to all of society.

If the way to do it is with scholarships, well, why not?

How can we make sure that all Spanish students have the same learning opportunities today?

I do not think their rights are they are conceived nowadays should change – it is a matter or rereading them from the perspective of digitization.

A good example may be scholarships or STEAM programs or digital training for the unemployed. Digitization is here to stay and we must address it.