Euro figures put spotlight on digital skills gap

While the digital skills gap is a crisis for businesses that must be addressed, it provides a clear opportunity for the channel to come to the rescue of SMBs

The European Commission has called on nations to redouble efforts in order to stave off the IT skills crisis.

According to figures released by the EC last week, there could be a shortfall of 825,000 skilled IT workers by 2020. European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Günther Oettinger said it was unacceptable that 24 million Europeans were searching for work, and yet, businesses still could not find skilled IT workers.

Demand for IT professionals has been growing around 3% each year; however, the number of IT graduates declined by 13% between 2006 and 2013.

The skills gap is particularly acute here in the UK. The International Technology Adoption and Workforce Trends Study from CompTIA found that 45% of 1,507 IT executives surveyed were experiencing an "excessive" shortfall in IT talent.

Furthermore, 44% of respondents said that the skills gap was having an impact on productivity and over a quarter said that shortages have slowed their speed to market and had a chilling effect on product development and innovation.

“We must fill the digital skills gap and prepare our workforce for change: there is a clear need for promoting digital skills at all levels, for re-skilling, and for lifelong learning across Europe and its regions,” Oettinger said in Riga.

“Digital skills will therefore need to be an integral part of our future education curricula while training a significant part of our current work force must be a priority.”

There are a range of initiatives already in place, designed to tackle the shortage. In 2013, the Commission set up the ‘Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs’. The multi-stakeholder partnership aims to facilitate collaboration among business and education providers, as well as public and private sectors.

Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Malta, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Romania already have projects in place, while Belgium, the Netherlands, Cyprus and the U.K. joined the coalition last week.

In the UK, the Tech Partnership (previously e-skills UK) now has more than 550 employers from across all sectors. Over the next decade, the Partnership aims to deliver the skills for a million new digital jobs

While European and national bodies continue to figure out how best to fill the void, there is, from a channel perspective, a clear opportunity, particularly at an SMB level.

In the February edition of the MicroScope ezine, Billy MacInnes argued that the channel should be acting as the interim knowledgebase for small and medium companies.

“Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) … account for 99% of private companies in the UK and are the least likely to have the required IT skills in-house,” MacInnes said. “The problem is that there’s a shortage of professionals able to both understand technology and communicate in a way other parts of the organisation can understand. SMEs don’t have the resources to retrain staff and develop an IT workforce fluent in the languages of business and technology.”

“This provides an opportunity for managed service providers to provide staff with a greater level of experience and training than would otherwise be impossible for SMEs to achieve. With more and more services being delivered through the cloud, channel partners can maintain their relevance by filling the technical gap.”

The digital skills gap is tied directly to the gender inequality issues pervasive in ICT. The EC’s statistics suggest that twice as many males are graduating from STEM subjects than females, and by addressing this issue, the skills shortage will be addressed by proxy.

Speaking at Interop London, Unilever’s vice president of information and analytics, Kjersten Moody, said that niches such as analytics could provide the answer.

“I believe that analytics as a new topic in technology is part of the answer,” Moody told the audience. “I challenge [businesses] to consider analytics as an emerging segment in the technology field that can offer greater appeal and enticement for women to enter technology.”

Read more on Channel Business Management