UK could face Net skills shortage

Regulatory, educational, training reforms needed to sustain Internet boom, says new report

A new report ranks the UK's Internet economy first among European countries, but warns continuing growth may lead to a widespread dot-com skills shortage here.

The report, compiled by consultancy Spectrum Strategy, finds Internet related services could account for nine percent of the UK gross domestic product by 2003. Such services will create more than 850,000 jobs in the next three years, but nearly one in ten could be left unfilled because of lack of investment in retraining workers.

Spectrum, which carried out the report for Andersen Consulting, interviewed 160 CEOs, government ministers and industry experts from Europe and the US, including representatives of Freeserve, QXL and America Online. Eighty-eight percent of interviewees said they were already having difficulties finding employees with the appropriate Internet skills.

And the situation looks set to get worse: the Net will create 852,000 new jobs in the UK by 2002, but an estimated 80,000 will be left unfilled, says Spectrum. That situation could threaten the benefits the Internet is bringing about. "Britain has the opportunity to benefit from... gains in efficiency and deflation, but only if the skills and labour market can keep up with the lightning pace of Internet development," said co-author Janice Hughes in a prepared statement.

Hughes downplayed the downturn in tech stocks over the last few months, arguing the Net represents a "real and permanent change to the economic landscape".

New-economy businesses say there's a need for more intensive, technology-oriented education, and even support a new, compulsory international 'technology certificate' to ensure the spread of basic technological skills, Spectrum says.

There's also a strong need for the government to cut down on useless red tape and do more to promote IT education, with 96 percent calling for reforms.

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