Over the past years, news about the impact of the economic crisis on the European continent has often dominated the headlines. Some sectors, however, have braved the crunch and fared well despite Europe’s economic turmoil. One of them is the information and communication technologies (ICT) industry, which continues to be on the upswing. While this is undoubtebly a positive development, it also presents a number of challenges.

Positions and products in the ICT sector can offer an optimistic outlook for the European continent- David Casa

The upsurge of the ICT industry is creating an increasing number of jobs in the sector. However, educational institutions across Europe struggle to keep up with this phenomenon, as the number of skilled graduates to take on these positions is in decline. According to the European Commission, this may lead to a situation where the number of unfilled vacancies could reach 700,000 over the next three years.

There is hence an urgent need to address this looming gap in the ICT industry. Recognising the need for action, the European Commission issued a Communication entitled E-skills for the 21st Century: Fostering Competitiveness, Growth and Jobs, back in 2007. In doing so, the Commission aims to map out a strategy that allows member states to address the future needs of a growing ICT industry.

The strategy focuses on five different elements: ensuring cooperation in the longer term, making the ICT industry more appealing, investing in human resources, enabling continuous education for those working in the sector as well as improving employability and the aquisition of digital competences.

By focusing on these five goals, the Commission intends to improve the cooperation among a wide range of stakeholders that form part of the ICT industry, for instance by building bridges between the public and the private sectors. This will be corroborated by efforts to stimulate interest in the sector and to actively communicate the benefits of ICT careers to young people in particular. Finally, the strategy also aims to ensure that those who have chosen a career in the ICT industry can keep up with the ongoing developments in the sector, for instance by refreshing their skills through effective training programmes.

Initiatives to get more people in Europe interested in ICT careers can take many shapes and forms. Back in March, for instance, the European Commission launched the so-called European e-Skills Week. More than 30 countries across Europe took part in this campaign, hosting a colourful range of ICT-related events. Many of these events showcased the opportunities that this industry has to offer while providing insights into the achievements of young computer scientists who may serve as inspirational role models. One example that was highlighted in the context of this year’s e-Skills Week was that of two successful Maltese entrepreneurs in the ICT sector. The two young innovators launched their own web development studio when they were still students at the University of Malta. What began as a small start-up entreprise is now a fully-fledged business with successes that reach beyond the borders of the Maltese islands.

Yet the importance of computer literacy is not limited to the ICT sector itself. It can, in fact, prove essential for many job seekers in other industries. The European Commission suggests that 90 per cent of employment opportunities will require different levels of knowledge in ICT in the near future. This figure points to the fact that ICT-related skills will eventually be beneficial to almost everyone in Europe. Recognising this trend, many member states have taken action in order to make computer education and software more accessible to their citizens.

The various initiatives to encourage European citizens to become more tech-savvy are important for two main reasons. First of all, they can enable the European Union to meet its demands for ICT workers and thereby address any future shortfalls. Secondly, the ICT industry plays an important role in the European economy, generating a market value of €600 billion annually. That number is responsible for five per cent of GDP in Europe. In other words, positions and products in the ICT sector can offer an optimistic outlook for the European continent.

While there is widespread concern about the European economic crisis and resulting employment issues, the modernisation of various industries is also creating new demand for experts in the field of information and communication technologies. This may give hope to citizens across Europe. Despite the economic struggles many countries are experiencing, the rapid growth of industries such as the ICT industry shows that new and promising opportunities still continue to arise.

David Casa is a Nationalist MEP.