The shortage of people with Information and Communication Technology (ICT) skills is a serious constraint on progress in areas such as e-commerce, teleworking and online working.
Many of the most attractive new work opportunities are connected with the new networked economy. After years of caution, investors are now keen to fund the best-prepared new e-business ventures, and traditional companies are now quite rapidly stepping up their response to Internet opportunities and threats.
The take up of e-commerce by European companies will more than double between 1999-2000 and more than double again in the following year. The innovators are creating new work opportunities but skill shortages are widely reported as a constraint on more rapid growth. The number of unfilled IT jobs in Europe will grow from 500,000 in 1998 to an estimated 1.6 millions by 2002.
Because the pace of adoption of the new technologies varies greatly across Europe, people who have the necessary skills are unemployed in one region while companies in another region cannot recruit competent staff. Governments are now reacting to these problems, but not necessarily in appropriate ways. Both Germany and Britain have announced during March 2000 that they will seek to import tens of thousands of ICT-skilled workers from outside the European Union in order to plug the gap. Ireland already announced similar actions. But most of these people will move into those areas of Europe that already have the highest ICT usage, the highest prosperity and growth, and the most stressed local infrastructures and worst shortages of affordable housing. They will come from countries and regions that have struggling economies and need their skills just as desperately as any country.