CeBIT 2013: Neelie Kroes Launches “Grand Coalition” To Fix Skills Gap

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A new EU programme to combat the shortage of IT professionals was launched at CeBIT

This week, European Commissioner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes has outlined plans for the creation of a “Grand Coalition for ICT skills”, designed to help the shortage of IT professionals in Europe.

The Grand Coalition will start off with €1 million (£860,000) of funding that will be spent on raising awareness of the opportunities in the ICT field, improving education, and ultimately, getting a lot more people onto work in areas such as cybersecurity.

The initial investment will be followed by €3.5 million in the spring, and further support in the future.

Kroes warned the audience at the CeBIT 2013 exhibition in Hanover that EU could lose its competitive edge unless a solution for the “skills gap” is found.

Holding out for a hero

In her speech, Kroes noted that there are currently “hundreds of thousands of unfilled vacancies” in ICT, at a period of rising unemployment and economic turbulence. She said the Grand Coalition was created to both “build on existing successes” and seek out areas where more investment was needed.

Computer repair © vonzolomon Shutterstock 2012    The European Commissioner said that part of the problem was people weren’t aware of the many opportunities in the industry, and initiatives like ‘eSkills week’ and ‘Get Online week’ weren’t doing enough. She also called for modernisation of ICT education and postgraduate training, and more interaction between schools and IT businesses, so the programmes could be based on real-world requirements.

“The current training systems are so long winded and time consuming that they become irrelevant before completion,” Philip Taphouse from Bright Technology told TechWeekEurope. “Even the best technical qualification is useless unless backed up by real world experience.”

Kroes had no illusions about the effort it would take to change education systems across the EU: “That’s a huge task, ranging from curricula to teacher training, and it will take time. But it needs to be done.”

The Commissioner also noted that some markets are better supplied by ICT staff than others, and could share employees. “We must encourage mobility for ICT workers, and fix that problem. Of course, supporting free movement, in any sector, is the EU’s core business. And so I welcome that several national employment services are already actively helping.”

However, in order to work across Europe, the nomadic IT professionals would need a universally recognised qualification framework. Kroes suggested that the EU’s eCompetences could fulfil this role, but it’s up to the employers, candidates and governments to use it. The Grand Coalition is also expected to propose a targeted intra-EU mobility scheme focusing on ICT jobs in 2014-15.

kroes“The Commission will not just coordinate the work strands and governance of the Coalition. We will also directly support the Grand Coalition through our sectoral policies: from the digital agenda, education, and employment, to innovation and enterprise policy,” said Kroes.

The Grand Coalition will get access to the resources provided by the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, ‘Erasmus for All’ education programme and Progress programme. In the spring, it will receive €3.5 million form the EU coffers for a pan-European awareness-raising campaign which will run next year.

The meeting in Havover also saw IT businesses make “pledges” to the Coalition, and Kroes expects more participation from the private sector to join the initiative before the Digital Agenda Assembly in June.

“This is serious: it matters to our people, to our global competitiveness, to our very future. But the European Commission can’t do it alone. We can only reach our goals if all of us work together,” concluded the Comissioner.

Last month, the National Audit Office warned that that if the number of applicants for ICT courses doesn’t increase, it could take “up to 20 years” to fill the skills gap in Britain’s cyber security field.

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