Employers are facing a race against time to find skilled IT staff as Britain heads towards another skills slump.
The rocketing demand for IT workers with e-commerce and business skills will leave the UK with a shortage of 330,000 IT professionals by 2003.
The shortfall is so serious that IT departments must hire the staff required for the next generation of IT and e-commerce projects before the end of the year. If not, they are in danger of being unable to fill their vacancies.
This year marks a critical point for companies, with only enough IT staff available to fill half of the positions advertised. So claims Microsoft and IDC in an in-depth analysis of the skills crisis published this week.
Across Europe the shortfall in skilled IT staff will increase from 800,000 last year to 1.7 million by 2003 as organisations fight for candidates.
Unless businesses and governments take action, IDC warns, the lack of skilled professionals will pose an increasingly serious threat to Europe's digital economy.
"The ICT skills shortage is a major impediment to European growth and competitiveness," said Richard Straub, chairman of the ITC skills consortium, which represents large high-tech employers. "Partnership is required between industry, education and government to get the best solutions."
The greatest demand will be for IT staff who have knowledge of both technology and business. This is due to IT becoming increasingly a boardroom issue, as companies press ahead with their e-commerce projects.
There will also be huge growth in the need for staff with knowledge of routers, switches and mobile telecommunications.
Although government initiatives, and the increasing popularity of Application Service Providers (ASPs) will go some way to closing the gap between supply and demand, there will still be millions of vacancies that will remain unfilled.
Small and medium-sized companies will find it increasingly difficult to compete for IT staff as spiralling salaries place many professionals out of reach. This could deprive them of the backbone they need to develop e-commerce.
Businesses call for action
Source: Summit on technology innovation and skills training, Brussels, 7 March