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Europe must pull together to fix digital skills crunch

Neelie Kroes rallies all parties
Wed Mar 06 2013, 09:47
School children using Ordnance Survey computer software

TECHNOLOGY CHAMPION European Commission Digital Commissioner Neelie Kroes has had enough of the technical skills crunch and wants something to be done about it.

In a speech at Cebit, Kroes delivered her take on the problem and her plans for the solution.

"We agree that unemployment in Europe is unacceptably high and at the same time unfilled vacancies in ICT are growing," she said.

"We also acknowledge that our competitiveness as a region is under threat if we're short of digitally skilled people. We cannot go on this way. Doing nothing is not an option: and that is why we are here today. Not to talk and analyse but to decide, commit and act."

Kroes has a five point plan of action that starts with raising awareness about the fact that people can actually study and work in technology.

Here we imagine she looked up at her audience when she said, "Here, industry can take the lead: and fast... [Why not] dedicate one percent of your advertising budget to a joint campaign on the attractiveness of digital careers?"

Second on the agenda is telling people to chill out and not get worried about the daunting prospect of a career crawling under desks or slithering around chilly server rooms.

"We must modernise education, mainstreaming ICT for every pupil," said Kroes. "That's a huge task, ranging from curricula to teacher training, and it will take time. But it needs to be done."

Third is a good hard look at how ICT is taught, and here Kroes wants a united industry to define programme content that will produce skills that the industry needs. We might have put that first. Whatever.

Fourth is movement. The ability to pick up your skills and take them wherever you want, as long as that is somewhere in Europe.

"Sometimes someone has the right training and the right skills - but isn't where the jobs are. Today some countries face a surplus while others a shortage," she said. We must encourage mobility for ICT workers, and fix that problem.

In at five is, and try and steel yourselves, the idea that some bureaucracy must be removed from the European employment process.

"Maybe someone has the right awareness, the right skills, and is prepared to move to the right country - but can't demonstrate their skills and qualifications to a potential employer, at least not without prohibitive paperwork," Kroes added.

"Recognising qualifications in ICT isn't easy: it's a fast-moving world."

The solution to this is the eCompetences framework, which is a reference system for 36 IT skills. Kroes called this "a powerful tool" that can help employers understand skills. The problem is, right now it isn't. "That's a powerful tool," she said. "Now we need to commit to use it."

Next up is the loot. And Kroes and the EC have a cool €1m (£860,000) to invest in setting up this pan-Euro skills coalition and a further €3.5m to spend on marketing it this spring. We predict it will disappear in no time. µ


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