Unskilled masses could cost Europe dearly

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In the lead-up to an EU summit on innovation, employment and growth be held in Lisbon later this month, IT companies warned EU leaders to address an alarming IT skills gap.

 “There is no magic bullet solution for the IT skills gap,” said Doug Wilson, director at Datamonitor which conducted research into the problem. He added that action must be taken before there is any long-term economic damage.

The anticipated internet boom will be severely curtailed unless more people are trained. Proficient IT workers will be able to command high salaries, outwith the range of small businesses which could benefit from e-commerce.

According to research by International Data Corporation and Microsoft, Europe will be short of about 1.7 million information technology workers by 2003, to the detriment of economic growth.  Last year, Europe needed about 9.47 million IT workers and had only about 8.61 million who were suitably qualified. The next three years will be crucial as the skills gap of nine per cent widens to 13 per cent generally, and to 14 per cent in Europe.

If projects are put on hold because of a lack of the right people, then the door is left open for non-European companies to gain a competitive edge. This could cost business about 100 billion euros between 2000 and 2002, research from Datamonitor suggests. Governments will lose out on collecting a potential 60 billion euros of tax revenues.

Many analysts agree that the internet boom could revolutionise the European economy, boosting GDP in the EU by 1.5 per cent by 2002. Internet usage has grown dramatically in the UK as its citizens get the hang of conducting business electronically.

But help is at hand. Companies and policy makers have met in Brussels to develop proposals to look at impediments to European growth, competitiveness and employment. The solution is for business, academia and government to work together, said Clare Curtis, Microsoft UK's skills manager. One solution is for IT companies to take on unskilled workers and train them up, as IBM has found.

"We don't have enough people in the pipeline to fill the vacancies," Rebecca George, European recruitment manager at IBM said, adding that 50 per cent of the graduates they employ don't have an IT background. “The industry has about 50,000 vacancies in the UK and only 18,000 graduates coming out of university.”

It is to be hoped that cross-country co-operation at the Lisbon summit can take the sting out of some of these looming problems.


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