British Airways locking in Silicon Valley leaders on 11-hour flight to fix STEM job gaps

Summary:Taking a cue from jury verdict proceedings, British Airways is taking some of Silicon Valley's best and brightest minds to the clouds to brainstorm during a Transatlantic flight.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- What is one possible way to solve the debated global gap among science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs?

Gather together a bunch of really smart people, seat them on an airplane, lock the doors, and launch them into the sky until they have figured out a solution.

Well, at least that is one approach that being tried today.

British Airways introduced its new "UnGrounded" flight on Wednesday, touted to be the first-of-its-kind "Innovation Lab in the Sky."

In what could make a great or unbelievably boring reality show, the initiative involves hosting at least 150 of Silicon Valley's best and brightest innovators onboard for an 11-hour flight from San Francisco to London.

Some of those passengers include former Ning CEO Gina Bianchini and Penny Abeywardena, head of the Clinton Global Initiative's Girls and Women program.

Simon Talling-Smith, executive vice president for the Americas at British Airways, quipped during a press conference ahead of takeoff in downtown San Francisco that this trip isn't about a free trip to the British capital, asserting to some laughter in the audience that the passengers will be working hard over the next 24 hours.

During the Transatlantic haul, they'll be tasked with brainstorming ideas to address the following four issues: expanding STEM jobs in the U.S. and emerging economies as well as expanding opportunities for women in STEM jobs.

There is actually a highly contested debate in the technology industry as to whether or not the United States is actually experiencing a significant shortage of highly-skilled employees, from software developers to engineers.

Yet, a recent study from the Silicon Valley venture capital group Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers pointed to a gap nonetheless. One of the key arguments was that immigrants to the United States are often the ones filling the gaps, making them "especially important to the vibrancy of tech companies."

However, as immigration moves more into the spotlight of the U.S. political agenda this year, analysts at the firm appear to be worried that this talent pool is going to be shut out.

Researchers projected that by 2020, the average annual number of job openings requiring a bachelor's degree in computer science, for example, will grow to approximately 122,300. But they also predicted there will only be roughly 51,474 graduates in the U.S. to meet those demands.

The recent emergence of FWD.us , a technology-focused lobbying group with support from the likes of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, lends credit to this side of the STEM gap debate. The group has issued some specific demands to make it easier for foreign workers with specialized skill sets to be hired in the United States.

While the discussion in the air will concern bigger picture ideas that could take years to implement (if ever), British Airways reps reiterated some projects already in the works -- albeit they might not address STEM employment yet either.

Talling-Smith briefly touched upon the airline's new beta open API program in partnership with the Intel-owned Mashery API management service.

The API is already being put to use and using big data to route passenger information directly to flight attendants.

Topics: Collaboration, Enterprise 2.0, IT Employment, Social Enterprise, Tech Industry

About

Rachel King is a staff writer for CBS Interactive based in San Francisco, covering business and enterprise technology for ZDNet, CNET and SmartPlanet. She has previously worked for The Business Insider, FastCompany.com, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State. Rachel has also written for MainStreet.com, Irish Americ... Full Bio

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