Europe must tackle digital skills gap and labour shortages together

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

IT professionals often lack the skills they need to do their jobs effectively. [Shutterstock]

Most IT professionals lack the skills they need to do their job effectively. As the profession matures, we need to ensure our workforce has the skills it needs for the future, writes Fiona Fanning.

Fiona Fanning is secretary general of the Council of European Professional Informatics Societies (CEPIS).

We take the internet and its vital role in our daily lives for granted. Most of Western Europe and the eastern coast of the United States took a collective gasp on 21 October, when a cyber-attack struck many of the world’s most popular websites, including Twitter, Spotify and the Guardian.

This was a sharp reminder for people on both sides of the Atlantic that the digital realm doesn’t exist independently – it is kept in motion by many talented IT professionals.

In our professional and personal lives, we are increasingly dependent on stable technological solutions, and that reliance will only continue to grow. Yet, IT professionalism in Europe has failed to keep pace.

Almost 40% of companies trying to recruit IT professionals in Europe report difficulties in finding skilled workers. This escalating lack of digital skills in Europe is leading to a growing shortage of IT practitioners, which in turn hinders economic growth, competitiveness and employment.

As MEP and digital activist Eva Paunova recently said, “The European Union needs to digitally upskill its citizens to prepare them for the future of business and society.” We could not agree more.

Today only 23% of IT professionals have the competences required for their job. The digital skills gap in Europe means that there is an urgent need for lifelong learning, continued professional development and different educational paths that expand employees’ competences and skills and enable IT professionals to further their careers.

The profession must continue to mature in parallel with both technological developments and demands of the market. A dearth of well-trained IT professionals in a digital world would pose untold risks for society, the economy and collective security.

To do our part to mature the IT profession, the Council of European Professional Informatics Societies (CEPIS) has set up IT Professionalism Europe (ITPE). This is a network of organisations that are committed to fostering IT professionalism.

Members will provide long-term solutions to generate a workforce with the skills and competences that employers need. This will help European stakeholders change their approach to education, skills and employment, because different sets of skills are urgently required to avoid skills gaps and mismatches in the labour market.

Investment in education and research in informatics across Europe play a critical role in the advancement of society and the wider economy. Maturing the profession will not happen overnight, so the time for engagement and action is now.

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