Europe heads for damaging skills shortage as IT booms

Europe is facing an IT skills shortage which could stall the growth of e-business and damage the continent’s economy, a leading research body has warned.

The annual report by the European Information Technology Observatory claims that there will be a boom in spending on information and communications technology during the next two years, helping Europe’s e-business growth outstrip both the US and Japan.

However, EITO — which is backed by the European Commission and the OECD — also warned that Europe could have four million high-tech jobs unfilled by 2003, representing almost 20% of the sector’s total labour market.

According to EITO’s report, governments and businesses across Europe are jointly creating unprecedented demand for IT and telecoms services.

Governments are frantically promoting e-business in a bid to make sure their national economies are not left behind by their rivals.

Companies are responding to these calls — and the demands of their own business sectors — by investing in new e-business and telecoms infrastructures.

A massive investment in bandwidth ahead of the next generation of mobile e-business applications means the growth in investment is unlikely to slow down in the foreseeable future.

Bernhard Rohleder, head of the German IT and telecoms industry body BITKOM, said the lack of skilled employees to meet this demand could have serious consequences for Europe’s economy.

‘Despite record growth rates, industry is still driving with the brakes on. If nothing is done, in three years it will be impossible to find suitably qualified applicants for 18% of jobs,’ said Rohleder.

He claimed Europe faces missing out on a potential 3% extra gross domestic product as a result.

EITO sets a range of measures it believes could help the situation. This includes forging closer links between relevant academic institutions and industry, attracting professionals from outside Europe and making IT and e-business more attractive sectors for women to work in.

The UK, which has one of Europe’s fastest-growing e-business sectors, faces the prospect of hundreds of thousands of unfilled vacancies.

In last week’s Budget, chancellor Gordon Brown said he would look at ways of retraining unemployed people to work in IT, and how to encourage morepeople into the sector. However, the UK’s IT sector is increasingly looking abroad for skilled staff.

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