According to the European Commission, Europe is facing an acute lack of ITC talent that is threatening to hamper economic growth and global competitiveness (see video below). Demand for skilled professionals is increasing rapidly but companies are still struggling to fill positions. At the same time unemployment among young adults in Europe has reached 20%, and computer science degrees are falling in popularity.
In its ongoing battle against this talent gulf, the European Commission has this week launched “e-skills week 2012”. It aims to give young people an idea of how to get involved in the IT industry through company visits and exhibitions and to foster their interest through competitions and activities.
Antonio Tajani, the European commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship, opened e-skills week with a rousing call to action. In the wake of the speech, Computer Weekly magazine announced shocking news, claiming that ‘Young Europeans lack basic IT skills’. Shocking indeed, because the European Commission informs us that by 2015, 90% of jobs will require IT skills.
Hang on a minute – “young people lack IT skills”? How many young people in Europe don’t use social media, email, word processors? The statistics from Computer skills in the EU27 in figures tell us that 60% of 16-24 year-olds in the EU have made an electronic presentation, and 1 in 5 have written a computer program.
It’s a confusing message. Call them e-skills, IT skills or ITC skills, it’s clear we need them, but what exactly are they? Everything from sending an email to designing complex software is conflated into one term. Is the problem we are facing one of widespread computer illiteracy, or one of a shortage of tech specialists? Which of these elusive e-skills will lead graduates to those job openings that companies are struggling to fill?
What young people really are lacking is information about the ITC skills they need, a clear picture of the ITC industry, and a school syllabus that will equip them with all the basic ITC skills, as well as the foundations of computer science.
Thankfully, more resources are becoming available for young people, such as Microsoft Europe’s guide to popular ITC careers and the required skills for each. Additionally, education reform is underway in the UK. Education secretary Michael Gove is instigating an overhaul of ITC teaching and putting computer science on the curriculum. However a lack of qualified teachers and a potential removal of ITC from the curriculum for up to two years pending the introduction of the new syllabus is a cause for concern.
Steps are being taken in the right direction, but until this skills gap is plugged, more companies may follow Facebook, who took the unprecedented move of scouting out talent in India for their domestic bases.
Beyond Europe, there is an army of young ITC-savvy graduates – what can we learn from them?