European Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Jobs are Booming, but...

The technical skills gap is widening. As ICT graduate numbers fail to meet demand, companies must look to re-skill and certify business staff. 

ICT job numbers in Europe have been growing at a tremendous pace since the start of the millennium, now totalling 7.7 million and accounting for 3.5% of the continent’s total workforce. But demand for ICT workers is growing even faster and, if current trends continue, there are likely to be 756,000 unfilled vacancies in Europe by 2020.

These figures are revealed in a working paper by research and consultancy firm Empirica, using data from the Labour Force Surveys (LFS) of the EU-28 Member States and Empirica online job posting data.

The research shows that the number of ICT jobs grew on average:

  • 3% per year between 2000 and 2010.
  • 2% per year between 2011 and 2014.
  • 72,000 excess open ICT vacancies in Europe estimated today and this number is continuing to grow.

The most in-demand candidates currently are:

  • Core ICT practitioners, such as software and application developers.
  • Web and multimedia experts.
  • Database designers and administrators.
  • There continues to be high demand for management and plan/design staff, even though 459,000 such jobs have already been added in Europe in only three years – an average annual growth rate of 8%.

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Technical skills shortage creates strain on Europe’s economy.

The widening skills gap is likely to have serious implications, not only for European IT innovation, but also for Europe’s overall economic growth. Skilled ICT practitioners are needed in almost all industries of the economy, and indeed the majority (52%) of Europe’s current ICT employees do not work in the ICT sector. With hundreds of thousands of roles left unfilled, the European economy is likely to suffer as projects are not realised, tenders not submitted, innovations not made,

ICT graduate supply far from meeting demand.

One of the major problems facing Europe is its lack of ICT graduates. Instead of increasing with demand, the numbers of ICT graduates have actually been in decline since 2006, when they peaked at 129,000. The most dramatic decrease has been in the UK, where the number of ICT graduates today is down to just 63% of the number it used to be in 2003. And yet qualifications are still highly sought after in the European job market. The share of computer science graduates in ICT recruitment has increased significantly over the last 10 years, and so too has the share of graduates from other disciplines – such as mathematics, engineering, and social sciences – who possess the skills and qualifications needed to fill ICT positions that would otherwise remain vacant.

Beyond filling ICT roles: why companies must reskill and certify their cross-functional staff in order to compete.

As the struggle for ICT talent intensifies in Europe, companies are increasingly looking to reskill their existing business employees to take on more ICT functions and job roles. But while ICT has traditionally been a field in which outsiders – in terms of formal education or career trajectory – play a crucial role, today’s businesses are paying increasing attention to formal ICT qualifications and industry certification. Indeed, recent research (e-skills QUALITY study: shows that certification has become crucial for ICT practitioners across all backgrounds. We can safely assume, then, that industry certification will become especially important in adapting traditionally non-ICT employees to meet demanding technical staffing needs.

But far from being a last-ditch attempt by companies to fill ageing ICT requisitions, cross-skilling employees from the business side should instead be seen as a strategic masterstroke. The reason has to do with innovation. Reports show that companies generally tend to leave innovation projects to the IT department. This approach is a mistake on two counts.

Firstly, innovation requires an understanding of both business and ICT – and IT employees frequently suffer from a lack of knowledge of business operations. Secondly, successful innovation is actually more likely to come from the business side than from IT. The Empirica research shows that the relation between non-IT staff and IT staff involved in driving IT based innovation is 60/40 – both in terms of initiation and implementation. And this, despite many business employees lacking in the IT knowledge needed to effectively address innovation. Therefore, companies that boost the technical skills and qualifications of their business staff will not only be able to fill critical ICT roles faster, but will also exponentially increase their ability to innovate, and by consequence, their competitiveness.

Certified – ICT as a rewarding and recession-proof career.

It is also notable that between 2008 and 2010, when the crisis hit other labour markets hard, ICT employment actually increased – by on average 2.65% per year. Employees from all backgrounds can significantly boost career prospects with ICT training and certification. Not only are salaries likely to rise considerably as the skills gap increases, but a career in ICT is among the safest for surviving current European austerity, and any future recession.

Whether you are a business leader or an individual contributor, working in IT or non-IT, technology training and certification must be on your list of priorities. Your career, your business, and Europe’s future may depend on it.

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