Europe is at risk of missing out on the economic and social benefits of trends like big data and cloud computing if not enough technical workers are produced in the region.
Andrus Ansip, European Commission (EC) Digital Single Market chief, issued the warning during a speech in Belgium, where he outlined the scale of the skills gap facing Europe.
“Despite rapid growth in the ICT sector, creating some 120,000 new jobs a year, Europe could face a shortage of more than 800,000 skilled ICT workers by 2020,” he said.
“We still see big differences in skills levels between EU countries, and different implementation of national skills programmes designed to minimise Europe’s digital divide.”
Ansip described this as an alarming state of affairs, especially as the benefits of new IT trends such as big data can be truly realised only with tech-savvy workers.
“Global big data technology and services are set to grow from €3bn in 2010 to €16bn this year, seven times more quickly than the overall IT market,” he said.
“To me, that is the kind of rapid growth that means hundreds of thousands of new jobs across Europe in the coming years.
“But is Europe ready for the advent of big data? Perhaps not yet: 29 percent of larger EU companies see themselves as ready, but more than 50 percent say they are not.”
This will also affect technologies such as cloud computing, another area where Europe is primed for growth, as Ansip outlined.
“By 2020, cloud computing is due to expand to almost five times its market size in 2013, meaning more value to the economy, more jobs, more innovation,” he said.
“Since much more data is likely to be stored in the cloud in the years ahead, it is vital to address issues like data storage, ownership and management sooner rather than later.”
Ansip explained that the EC’s effort to create a more efficient digital single market that removes barriers to cross-border trade is just one way to boost the digital economy in Europe, which could act as a catalyst to create more digital workers.
The need for more tech-savvy workers has been on the UK government’s agenda for some years, and a revamped computing curriculum was introduced to improve the situation.
However, while this may address the problem in the long-term, others have said that the UK needs to accept its current lack of skilled tech workers and reinstate visas that allow foreigners to work for UK firms if they have the relevant skills.