UK employers will face a shortfall in IT professionals with advanced networking skills within three years, analyst firm IDC warned last week.
Without investment in training and education, the UK will be short of nearly 40,000 network professionals by 2008 - more than most European countries, a study by IDC and Cisco has predicted.
The shortfall could damage business competitiveness in the UK, hold back economic growth and hinder the adoption of advanced technologies, the research, based on interviews with 950 chief information officers, claimed.
"Although the UK is closing the skills gap in percentage terms, the massive number of people required to meet demands means that British businesses will still face a significant challenge," said Nick Watson, enterprise managing director at Cisco.
The skills shortage has been driven by a dramatic increase in the use of network technology across businesses of all types and sizes over the past five years, creating stronger demand for IT professionals with network skills.
At the same time, companies have cut back staff training and the number of students signing up for IT courses at university has dropped significantly.
The government and businesses will need to make targeted investments in training and education to reverse the shortage, if businesses are to be able to implement the e-business technologies needed to improve productivity, IDC said.
"The number of students in relevant courses going through higher-level education is falling. There is an issue about attracting people into maths, science and IT," said IDC analyst Marianne Kolding.
Across Europe there will be a shortage of up to 500,000 people with advanced network skills by 2008, the research predicted.
The shortages are likely to be higher in Eastern Europe and non-EU states, with demand for networking staff outstripping supply by more than 20%.
As networking becomes more pervasive, IT staff will increasingly need to have networking skills alongside programming and systems analysis skills.
Some 70% of employers said security skills would become more important to their businesses, and 60% said IP skills would become more important.