PM+: EU action needed to meet growing demand for workers with eSkills

Written by John Higgins on 8 May 2014 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

Europe’s technology sector is actively engaged with national governments in tackling the EU’s growing eSkills gap, writes John Higgins.

ICT is helping Greece turn the corner after experiencing the worst economic downturn in a generation.

The Greek government has used its six months at the helm of the European Union to maximise this trend, not only for its own unemployed workforce, but for all 28 EU member states.

Greece offers a dramatic example of the skills gap in practice. While its overall unemployment rate remains the highest in Europe at over 24 per cent, many world famous technology firms are lining up to hire staff to fill new jobs they are looking to create in Greece, especially for high-end tech experts and people with e-leadership and ICT management skills.

Microsoft recently set up a call centre, creating 750 jobs in the process. Huawei is considering opening an innovation centre in Athens. IBM has recently announced the creation of a centre of excellence for big data and business analytics, also in the Greek capital. HP is creating a call centre for its dealers and partners in the region, creating 100 jobs. And SAP has announced plans to create an innovation & value engineering centre in Greece.

The positive impact on jobs from ICT doesn’t only come from the big corporations. Last year saw a sharp rise in the number of start-ups in Greece: 144, compared with less than 15 just two years earlier when the crisis was at its peak. The vast majority of these new enterprises are technology-oriented firms.

However, in spite of this recent surge in activity in Greece’s technology sector, ICT jobs still account for just 1.6 per cent of total employment. The average for the EU is 3.4 per cent, leaving Greece with one of the smallest ICT sectors – as a proportion of the wider economy - in Europe.

While around a quarter of Greece’s workforce is unemployed, the number of ICT job vacancies is actually rising. An estimated 1200 ICT jobs remained unfilled in Greece last year, according to the researcher Empirica. That figure is expected to rise to 1800 by 2020.

We see this trend at the European level too – stubbornly high levels of general unemployment, but at the same time a shortage of applicants for technology-oriented positions. This is the skills gap that the technology industry is trying to help governments to address.

But it would be wrong to see the skills gap as a temporary thing. Growing demand for people with eSkills is a long term trend that requires concerted action from both the public and private sectors.

"We see this trend at the European level too – stubbornly high levels of general unemployment, but at the same time a shortage of applicants for technology-oriented positions. This is the skills gap that the technology industry is trying to help governments to address"

The Greek government recognises this. Earlier this week it launched a national coalition for digital jobs – a joint initiative with companies to help spread eSkills in Greece. And it has thrown its support behind the European commission’s e-Skills for Jobs 2014 campaign, because it sees technology as an important part of the fight to bring down unemployment.

The eSkills for Jobs 2014 campaign is part of the commission’s grand coalition for digital jobs - an EU-wide multi-stakeholder partnership designed to address a shortfall in the number of European citizens with ICT professional skills, and to exploit the employment creation potential of ICT.

The main focus of the campaign is to raise awareness of the education, training, jobs, and other opportunities that are available to people with eSkills – those who know how to use digital technologies effectively.

It will inform students, unemployed people, ICT professionals and SMEs about the vast range of opportunities that ICT-related jobs present. During the course of 2014, the e-Skills for jobs campaign will run in 31 European countries – the EU plus Norway, Turkey and Israel.

The campaign is coordinated by DigitalEurope and European Schoolnet in conjunction with hundreds of national and pan-European partners including, SEPE (partner for Greece), the European centre for women and technology, JA-YE, Telecentre Europe and many major IT industry partners.

Secondary school students across the EU are still insufficiently aware of the importance of IT skills for their future jobs. We have to make sure that Europe’s young people are prepared to engage in Europe’s digital future and that they are equipped to work in the digital age.

Find out more about eSkills for jobs here: http://eskills-week.ec.europa.eu

About the author

John Higgins is director general of DigitalEurope

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