Nicosia hosted the first inaugural European Coding Challenge on Friday (20 May), where young Cypriots got training and insights from tech experts as the EU tries to ensure it won’t lack the skills it needs to achieve digital sovereignty.
The war for tech talents is raging worldwide, with European companies facing difficulties in recruiting information and communication technology (ICT) specialists.
The European association All Digital, the Cyprus Computer Society, and the global technology company Huawei organised a one-day coding challenge in Nicosia to raise awareness of the issue.
It aimed to motivate young Cypriots to go down the coding road as such skills are becoming more critical. “Coding should be accessible to everyone”, said Peter Palvolgyi, All Digital’s CEO, adding that “it can be better reached through non-formal education”.
The 27 participants were offered a chance to get training on HUAWEI Mobile Services – the Chinese company that acted as a technical partner – and feedback and advice from coding masters. “We know the ecosystem of applications is very important”, declared Marco Xu, Public Affairs Director for Central, Eastern and Northern Europe at Huawei, to EURACTIV, stressing that such events are a chance to encourage developers to use their platform.
“Most of the students graduating now only have basic knowledge, not the specialist knowledge the companies need”, he said, pointing out an ever-changing industry that requires experts to be on the cutting edge.
In Cyprus alone, there is a shortage of some 4,000 IT specialists, according to Kyriacos Kokkinos, the country’s Deputy Minister of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy, who delivered a speech at the event.
“Path to Digital Decade”
To address these shortages, which are also found across Europe, the European Commission presented a plan in September 2021 called the “Path to Digital Decade”. This initiative aims to ensure that the continent will fully embrace digitalisation by 2030.
As part of the set targets put forward, at least 80% of the bloc’s citizens should have basic digital skills, and the EU27 should be able to rely on 20 million ICT workers by 2030.
“That is not an easy task to achieve”, declared the Cypriot minister, calling it an “ambitious” objective but committing to make it a “high priority of the government”. Huawei is “ready to become one of the contributors of this [European] ambition”, Xu also said.
“The shortages have two dimensions”, Kokkinnos told EURACTIV. He mentioned it was not only about quantity but also about quality. “There is a lack of market needs”, he said, stressing that the skills students learn at university already need upgrading when they enter the labour market. “Coding is like moving sand. You need to be always on the edge”, he stressed.
Not all countries are on the right track when it comes to skills, according to the 2021 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), an index assessing member states’ digital performance.
More women needed
The European executive has also set a gender convergence target, calling on member states to promote women’s access to this field.
Asked about the importance of having more females in the ICT sector, Kokkinnos said that he question is “easy to answer, but difficult to address”. “Our education system, our social preconceptions, do not encourage” women into this career, he explained.
“It starts with the family and the society, and then the education system maintains this, rather than reverting and reversing it. This is a huge challenge”, he told EURACTIV, stressing that there has not been “measured improvement” despite many initiatives in Europe over the past years.
“I have always believed that digital technology is the best opportunity for males and females to achieve equality”, Xu said, calling on each country’s education system to encourage female students to get into these professions.
“Everything is conditioned to make a woman think that she’s not good with a computer”, said Elena Strouthou, co-founder of Cocoon Creations Services, a mobile design agency, who shared her journey with the attendees. “It is excluding 50% of the population”, she told EURACTIV.
The European Parliament Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) adopted its position on the “Path to Digital Decade” proposal on Tuesday (17 May).
[Edited by Alice Taylor]