Europe's New Plan To Close Digital Jobs Gap

Grand coalition taps schools and high-tech companies to address the problem of 900,000 unfilled high-tech jobs, starting with tech education reform.
Tablets Rock On: Education Tech Through The Ages
Tablets Rock On: Education Tech Through The Ages
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Europe soon will have almost a million "digital job" vacancies, leaving the region "under threat" in competing technologically with other parts of the world, said EU commissioner Neelie Kroes at German IT trade show CeBIT Monday in announcing a "grand coalition" to deal with the problem.

"Quite simply, facing hundreds of thousands of unfilled vacancies, we cannot continue as we were," said Kroes, who, together with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, detailed the new pan-European drive to fill some of the 900,000 unfilled ICT vacancies soon to be open across Europe.

Dubbed the Grand Coalition For Digital Jobs, the plan is designed to boost collaboration between Brussels and European businesses, schools and universities to boost IT sector recruitment and training. The coalition is to receive seed funding of a million euros ($1.3 million) to get it up and running, the pair told CeBit.

The 900,000 figure comes from a prediction out of Kroes' office and represents the anticipated number of job vacancies there will be in Europe by 2015. At the same time, she said, the number of available jobs in the tech sector is growing by 100,000 annually. As Kroes says on her website, "Today's businesses are all going digital and they all need skilled ICT workers."

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Even if the coalition meets its challenge, it might not make much of a dent in Europe's overall high jobless ratio, which currently stands at 26 million. In another reminder of just how far such well-intentioned grand visions sometimes have to travel, separate reports from educational monitors in the U.K. say it will take years to reform the curriculum to get British children interested in programming.

An educational reform would have to start with teachers, said David Brown, the national adviser for ICT at Ofsted, the official body that inspects British schools. Brown recently told delegates attending a Westminster education forum in London that today's current crop of school computing teachers are "especially lacking" in programming skills. He added that the situation will become exacerbated as curriculums shift to more computer science theory and programming classes, referring to the government's determination to get U.K. youngsters back to programming via tools such as the Raspberry Pi and away from classes that teach Microsoft Office programs, as now most exclusively do. The only answer to the problem of computer class teachers who can't program, said Brown, is to retrain the teachers, but "I don't think this has been completely grasped yet and CPT (continuous professional training) … needs to be done now."

The grand coalition project already has a number of key stakeholders on-board to "give our people better job prospects -- while also boosting European competitiveness," said Kroes in her blog. They include not only European IT giants such as Germany's SAP and Spain's Telefonica but also the U.S.'s Oracle, Cisco, Microsoft and HP, as well as networks such as the European Schoolnet and the European e-Skills Association.

Early ideas include moves to simplify information and communications technology (ICT) certification systems and develop common definitions of skills so IT graduates in one country can more easily gain employment in another EU country if there is opportunity there.

Another tool is simply to increase awareness, writes Kroes, who suggests visiting schools and "spreading the word" might help. "Maybe people aren't aware how attractive and enjoyable ICT careers can be," she writes. "Maybe our education systems aren't giving them the skills businesses actually need; or maybe they don't feel able to apply for jobs in other EU countries."

Other ideas Kroes is floating include designing new "e-learning" programs to teach ICT skills and offering new internships and apprenticeships.

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