The growth of e-business across Europe is under threat unless more people can be trained in IT skills, the International Labour Organisation has warned.
The ILO, an agency of the United Nations, said information and communications technology (ICT) industries are facing a ‘critical bottleneck’ because of skills shortages and an ageing population.
It believes the number of unfilled ICT vacancies across Europe could treble from 500,000 in 1998 to 1.6 million in 2002.
This will coincide with a huge growth in demand among Europe’s businesses for more sophisticated e-commerce applications, and the IT infrastructure to support them.
In particular, the ILO estimates that 77 million people will be using the internet in the workplace — 70% of the entire workforce — by 2004 compared with less than 30 million now.
The resulting mismatch could begin to distort industrial location patterns across Europe, according to a briefing paper, which was prepared for the ILO’s European regional conference in Geneva.
‘If skill shortages persist, industry relocation may increase as firms gravitate to labour markets where systems analysts, programmers and technicians are abundant,’ the paper says.
It points out that information handling is now crucial to most sectors of business activity.
‘Even in the production of physical products such as machinery or automobiles there is much more knowledge embedded in the process than ever before,’ says the ILO’s briefing. ‘Machinists are now likely to be computer specialists.’
The ILO has called on governments to look urgently at retraining Europe’s 15 million unemployed workers to help meet the demand for IT skills.
ILO director general Juan Somavia said economic progress was now heavily dependent on ensuring that sufficient people participate in the knowledge economy.