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

We're leaving students behind, and the future of the global market will suffer because of it.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

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


Editorial standards