The digital economy: Yes, we're failing you.

The digital economy: Yes, we're failing you.

Summary: We're leaving students behind, and the future of the global market will suffer because of it.

TOPICS: EU, China, IT Employment

European Union policy makers have identified an increasing shortfall of technological skills among the younger generation, and yet -- what is being done about it?

Gen-Y and young children are known for being tech-savvy, often more so than their older counterparts. They may know how to operate a computer, download a torrent file to catch that television episode they missed, or be able to operate gesture-based devices.

But do they know what PHP is? Do they know how to construct simple programs?

It may not have been required in the economy 40 years ago, but now, it is these skills which can make you an enticing prospect to employers -- all the more important for a generation stuck in the mire of a stagnant economy.

Research from the European Commission has once again highlighted these concerns in a new report.

Without computer skills now considered 'basic', both school leavers and graduates are not acquiring the knowledge and ability which are now arguably as important as basic literacy and math.

The Commission estimates that by 2015, at least 700,000 of young people will leave education without these skills. Faced with over 100,000 vacancies in the UK alone that require specialized computing skills and 24 million out of work in Europe, even if this figure is modest. In terms of a global digital economy, it will have a strong detrimental impact to many countries in the EU.

According to the report, these kinds of IT-based jobs will rise by 16 million by 2020, while low-skill vacancies will slide by approximately 12 million. In the European Union, already hampered by the Eurozone debt crisis, emergency loans and sluggish economic growth, the potential future state of affairs could mean not only more out of work, but poor prospects for long-term economic recovery -- let alone prosperity.

Today's talks in the UK concerning the new fiscal budget inadvertently brought these issues back into the spotlight. There is a desperate need to promote education and growth within the field of technology in the United Kingdom in order to support future competitiveness in the economy. However, it does not appear to be high on the agenda.

Political figures may prepare well-written statements concerning such growth and the investments being made, and yet actual action does not always support the spoken word. When you consider that ultrafast broadband -- continually delayed in the UK -- is being rolled out two years after it is being setup in Morocco, one has to wonder just how much the UK government understands. It is not all about short-term debt cuts, it is about true economic recovery.

Concerning technological education in the UK school system, there is meant to be a 'shake-up' in how schools provide basic education within ICT. Instead of focusing on teaching students how to use particular software, the coalition government wants to introduce lessons on core computing itself -- how software works, rather than just how to use it.

The UK government realize that technological skills and innovation are key to remaining competitive in a global economy -- and we should adapt the education system in response.

However, in contradiction, information technology is not to be included on the list of core subjects that comprise the English baccalaureate -- a qualification growing in popularity as an international alternative to traditional A-levels.

The skills required of a domestic workforce are changing, and educational systems are not necessarily catching up at the rate the future economy requires; due to political restraint, economic budgets, classroom sizes and a host of other barriers.

In the UK, there has been a 33 percent reduction in applicants to computer science degrees since 2002, and the slow development of new and innovative technology within the country is already chafing under a lack of skilled workers -- causing investors to look elsewhere, and entrepreneurs to often sell their work to foreign companies.

Just as the UK's once dominant computer games and animation industry has lost its hold to a plethora of foreign developers, most of its modern technology also comes from foreign sources. Contracts are sent abroad, and there is little predictability within the UK economy that entices investor interest. Even if there is a core skills base, without investors -- such as SME hiring and apprenticeships -- the digital economy will stagnate.

The rather weak response of one member of parliament seems to encompass the entire attitude to ICT training and development within the EU:

"Some may be suited for computers; some may not be. If they want to study it, they can study it."

It is this kind of technophobia and a lack of understanding which will threaten the future digital economy of the EU. While the United States and China see signs of economic growth, and in the case of China, becomes a heavyweight contender for the digital crown, the EU flounders under its own lack of investment and priorities.

There are examples of projects currently operating within the European Union, but it may not be enough to make the impact required to fill not only the thousands of vacancies left open within Europe, but to compensate for an increasingly digital economy.

There is only a small amount of time in which those in power can staunch this shortage if the future global workforce is going to be adequately equipped for the jobs that will be available. However, considering the misinformation, mistakes and obvious lack of technological knowledge that was displayed by one government's debate today, the future for the EU in a globally competitive market looks bleak.

Image credit: Christina Welsh


Topics: EU, China, IT Employment

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Look at the requirements for working for a tech job sometime . . .

    (Note: This is US centric, but I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing is going on in the UK)

    Look at the requirements for working for a tech job sometime, you'll know why they're having so many troubles hiring.

    -Requires 3 years experience in a common language ([b]education not counted as experience[/b]).
    -Requires experience in some enterprise stuff that isn't being taught in colleges.
    -Requires experience in several frameworks they didn't go over in college.
    -Requires experience in a couple of archaic languages nobody uses.

    And that's just in a single job listing.

    Employers aren't trying to hire us. They're trying to find some ideal person who doesn't exist. And they're [b]NOT[/b] communicating to the education system that they need more enterprisey stuff to be taught in classes.

    And honestly, they don't consider the fact that most of us are perfectly willing to learn what's needed to do the job. Sure, I may not have experience in that archaic language, but I'm willing to learn it to do my job.

    In fact, I pride myself in my flexibility, I'm sure I can learn whatever is needed for any tech job. I have self taught myself many programming languages, and I'm perfectly comfortable learning more.

    But - nope, that's not what they really want. They want me to know everything up front. And they want me to have experience I can't get, because nobody's listing entry level positions.

    I could go on - but I'm fairly convinced it's not because we don't have the education.

    It's because they don't want to hire straight from college.
    • It's not easy to hire someone

      I've been burnt often. So much now that unless I have a very specific task in mind I hire on how tech interested the person really is. Real techies will have tried everything and will be interested in everything. They will have a keen interest in the next version of Windows, Linux (whatever distro), OS X. They've tried to program iOS and Android, and see the strength and weaknesses in all. I like to see what type of home projects they've done, to me that's almost more important then work experience. It tells me if they're capable of completing something even if they don't know how to do it at first.

      That's what's important. These guys are well worth their salaries and bonuses. I'd probably hire you, CobraA1.
      • I hope you are right...

        I love tech and play and try, I have a BBA in Computer Information Systems and 30 years within IT. I volunteer for orgs that need web development ( we have another group that does that at work so I don't get my hands in it), I have two servers at home Linux and Windows 2008 R2) that I play with and I build my own machines at home. I just bought a Macbook Pro last year (early 2011) so I can force myself to use and learn OS X and I have a Apple Developers ID so i can code for iOS devices (still working on that). I play with Linux on the side just for fun (old DOS programmer). I mostly design and support OLAP and ETL development and technology now. But I do these things to make myself uncomfortable. So I invest a lot of time and money... will it pay off who knows.

        The other big thing is the companies, they would rather pay 1.50 an hour for a "programmer" overseas than higher quality people. What they need to look at is how much time and rework had to go into the project to actually make it work? what is the $'s there?
    • You forgot somthing

      "-Requires 3 years experience in a common language (education not counted as experience).
      -Requires experience in some enterprise stuff that isn't being taught in colleges.
      -Requires experience in several frameworks they didn't go over in college.
      -Requires experience in a couple of archaic languages nobody uses."

      Requires you to go to a four year college, spending form $20,000 to $100,000 and realize the university did not teach you any of the above. In addition, start at a wage about the same if one just skipped college gone to a temp agency, stat as an assembler in a electronics plant and work in four years and gain the skills to work as assembler, test operator or rework operator. I know co workers when I was doing one day temp moving assembling PC jobs with unemployed IT workers who tell me the need a bachelor degree to start a $12.00 to $14.00 job.
      • *BINGO*

        It's nice to read some people actually keeping up with real life conditions here.

        But $20k for a 4-year degree? $60k is pretty much the norm, and for dual majors, $100k is pretty much on par as well...

        Our present and future generations are indeed slowly being robbed.

        Yes, there are other sides to the issue, but the one you and I agree on gets far less recognition.

        Oh, don't forget - there are some job ads (think 2010) that say "5 years of Visual Studio 2008 experience". Hmmm, 2010 - 2008 = 2. 5 years' experience for an IDE that's been out for only 2 years?

        And then that just made me remember how many colleges are required to teach "Ethics" classes... here's the hint: Do the opposite of what the class teaches to survive and prosper...
    • *bingo*

      I may have responded to the wrong comment, but yours is indeed a great post.

      And I too have been passed over for someone with tons of experience.

      Our society is indeed stagnating and it's only going to get worse.

      But only we, the workers, will be scapegoated... for "time is money" and only the companies get the subsidy, handouts, bailouts, and other entitlements...
    • We've communicated, its been ignored

      The failure is 1) failing maths/science standards and 2) unrealistic expectations from new graduates.

      The maths/science issue is done. We've warned long enough and its clear it will not be addressed. No one is prepared to tackle the reality that such subjects are difficult. Difficult isn't what today's students are interested in, Western education has moved on from difficult (and grading) with them.

      Failure at the basics level, combined with a massive increase in student numbers, has lead to a dumbing down of university courses. A four year course to become a programmer or teacher is ridiculous and a massive waste of money. But the market (parents) is demanding such courses because having a degree is now de regur.

      The second part is unrealistic graduate expectations. Hint: there is no point applying for a job that requires experience without experience! It requires experience because the company advertising it believes they're offering sufficient remunerations to attract someone that will be productive from day one.

      Finding graduate positions is difficult in tough economic conditions. I graduated during a recession. I got out the whitepages and called over 50 public sector departments for a position, finally got one at grade 1 pay.

      Today I head an IT department and interview people for positions. We offer graduate positions from time to time. The quality of interviewees is terrible.

      Graduates clearly have no idea about the private sector. This is not just a failure of the education system but of their families and friends that have not prepared them for commercial realities; every position we offer we need to make 3 times the salary to make a profit (the reason we exist). An interview is time for you to show me you are capable of that task; for experienced people immediately, for graduates a bit more time is accepted.

      Show you're hungry and prepared to do what it takes. Accentuate what you know, not what you don't. Dress up, be presentable. But above all try as many avenues as you can, and keep trying. It isn't easy, but despite what you've been told, life isn't either.
      Richard Flude
    • Oddly. . .

      Firstly, if an employer wants 3 years experience, they're looking for an experienced programmer. Sorry, but we are - so don't waste time applying or getting annoyed.

      In fact, we don't even use the same channels for recruiting graduates as experienced staff. Historically, we've always gone direct to our local university, or advertised via a local graduate recruitment board.

      On the other hand, I will confess that I pretty much rejected anyone who hadn't studied Java or C# - but I had no expectation that a graduate would have experience with enterprise frameworks, containers, etc.

      One problem no one really wants to discuss/address is that when I graduated, back at the start of the 90s, I was writing production software within a couple of weeks of starting work. We were dealing with single-tier systems, and 80x24 text-based terminals. You didn't need to know that much beyond the programming language.

      These days, on the other hand, there's a significant amount of training to even get an experienced programmer converted to use a new development stack.

      I'm also unconvinced about making courses more tailored towards what employers want. Generally speaking, we react to technical change, rather than anticipate it.
      • I have experience, as far as I'm concerned.

        "Firstly, if an employer wants 3 years experience, they're looking for an experienced programmer."

        I've written multi-platform apps, threaded apps, games, C++ apps, C# apps, Java apps, written my own web pages from scratch, worked with languages as old as QBASIC and old DOS batch files, and oh yeah I'm currently the maintainer of a Lua addon for WoW in my spare time. I have an excellent grasp of algorithms and data structures, and I can do pretty much anything I want with code. I honestly believe I can work with any system and any language, be it personal or professional.

        Define "experience." As far as I'm concerned, I have plenty.

        "I'm also unconvinced about making courses more tailored towards what employers want."

        Then how do college grads get jobs? If you don't have what employers want, how can you expect to be hired?

        "These days, on the other hand, there's a significant amount of training to even get an experienced programmer converted to use a new development stack."

        I'd love the chance to prove otherwise. I do very much enjoy the challenge, and I've adapted very quickly to every job I've had so far. And I'm willing to bet that a lot of college grads are easy to train as well.

        "Generally speaking, we react to technical change, rather than anticipate it."

        Well, maybe it's time for a strategy rethink :). I don't think the top businesses got to where they're at by being purely reactionary.
      • Re: experience


        I don't get it. You have all this great experience and yet complain about job ads asking for experience??? Don't you get that they're just trying to weed out the non-candidates before even wasting their time? You sound like someone who could get a job based on skill, if in fact you're "hirable" based on personality. What's the point
      • Problem is how they define it

        "You have all this great experience and yet complain about job ads asking for experience??? "

        99% is personal and educational. I've encountered a lot of businesses that don't want to count those as experience.
    • quit yer bitchin...

      ...and grow a pair.


      When there is a lack of experienced talent, opportunities open up for entry-level candidates. That's what we're seeing now. Maybe if you tried, you know, *applying* to the f-ing job anyway (instead of bitching about it on the internet), you'd find that yes, companies are willing to entertain raw talent even without experience.

      Now this is a whole different ballgame if you have no talent. But the way you're talking makes it sound hopeless. It's not hopeless, but you and other recent grads need to get over your entitlement complex and get the f--k to work.
  • Oddly enough it seems like they have no idea what they want

    They want "more of that" and yet aren't prepared to lay out what they mean, the training/skills/knowledge/unsavoury habits they actually do need and what they are going to do about it. They whine, bleat and bemoan their present and future but not one of these people/corporations/governments has anything approximating a plan of action.

    Gove, bless his beady little heart, has at least put down his pint, loaded up his blunderbuss and fired a job at secondary schools. It maybe a goal without being a plan (or much of a goal either) but it might at least be something.
    • Uh-huh

      There's one reason why some are whining and bleating...

      But don't you dare accuse us all of not going for the training and developing skills. DON'T YOU DARE.
      • i do dare - now what?

        tell it you your parents and mates. It does not really work with strangers.
  • Re: China education

    China is becoming a "heavyweight contender for the digital crown" without the benefits of an advanced education system or advanced technology. The new iPad is not even sold in China even though it is manufactured there, while the US has been experimenting with the iPad in the classrooms for over a year. The over-riding majority of the K-12 classrooms in China still have chalkboards and out-dated textbooks. The EU research or US public education can make whatever case they want for more tax dollars to the public education systems to produce the tech-savvy population. But the reality is that the developed countries (US, EU, etc) will be more consumers-based (less productive, less work-ethics, etc.) while underdeveloped countries like China will be more producers-based (more productive, more work-ethics, etc), regardless of education spending or technology.
    • Then you may go live there and experience "productive"

      And then tell us how they're all willing and happy to do it for 50 cents an hour, followed by the latest article telling of all the suicides by their workers...

      You're otherwise right, the use of technology as a panacea is indeed idiotic to the extreme, but not all the qualifiers and details regarding "producers-based" are not being discussed, and it's fair to bring in more sides...

      Oh, thanks for generalizing all within the 'developed' countries, which must surely include your good self, since you were here posting instead of making your boss wealthier by working 12 hours per day at a nickel per hour (so I suggest you go to your boss and demand "equal treatment" too... if you're sincere in your post, of course...)
      • Data please

        Last I saw, Chinese programmers and engineers that are worth anything are earning comparable to Stateside counterparts. In case you weren't looking, Beijing doesn't really look anything like Mumbai.
  • Well, people can spend inflated dollars for college...

    Just to see jobs paying $10/hr...

    And only those who are age 20 will get them...

    The cost of living has gone up, wages have not, and colleges have managed to let their fees skyrocket - mostly because of increased "need" to get higher degrees, even for $10/hr jobs, and there's no way to get forgiveness... meanwhile, every drunkie, druggie, and gambler can get off scot-free and go back to do it all again. Ditto for high rolling businessmen...

    This so-called "economy" is screwing everyone over. And those wanting to better their lives are the ones being screwed over the most.

    Sorry to be frank (and fairly glib*), but time and effort are hardly rewarded anymore. It's all about "consolidation", "cost cutting", and then wondering why nobody spends...

    * the number of issues and articles I could go tangent into would be too numerous considering the scope of the article...
  • Same old BS

    I read the same BS at least since Sputnik1 about dreary predictions of the future of Western world due to horrible state of education, but somehow we are still muddling trough and I take wild guess, that we will for a long time to come, still complaining about the horrible state of our education...