A two day eSkills summit organised by the European Commission (EC) kicked off today to address ongoing concerns that the level of IT skills must urgently be addressed if European Union (EU) member states are to compete on the worldwide economic stage.
Organised in partnership with industry heavyweights Cisco, Microsoft and IBM, the event brings together ministers, academics, public sector organisations and IT sector representatives to thrash out strategies for improving the level of technology skills across the region.
It follows warnings that, despite the economic downturn, member states must not take their eye off the ball if they are to make the shift to a digital, knowledge-based economy.
Estimates from analyst IDC suggest that by 2005 western Europe will be one million skilled people short of the expected demand for e-skills.
Opening the conference, the Danish Minister for science, technology and innovation, Helge Sander, told delegates that the potential of investments in IT would never be harvested unless parallel investments in skills were also made.
"Skills are fundamental to the twin targets to improve the social inclusion and become the most competitive and dynamic society within the next decade," Sander said.
"The main priority is to support the eEurope 2005 action plan with its special focus on ICT and e-business. During the Danish presidency it will be decided how to reach the main objects of the eEurope 2005 action plan," he added.
In Denmark, a reform of the structure of universities is already underway to help plug the gap between academia and industry and shorten the time to market of new ideas developed at Danish research institutes.
The summit will call on other member states to follow suit.
At the same time industry and social partners must take responsibility in promoting lifelong learning and making IT and e-business careers attractive to everyone.
The summit will culminate in the signing of a declaration, emphasising the need for certain criteria to be met if skills issues are to be addressed.
They include the need to reduce the digital literacy divide; to attract and retain educated and highly skilled individuals and to make Europe the most attractive place for skilled people to live and work.
Erkki Liikanen, EC commissioner for enterprise and information society, who will close the summit, said: "Investment in human capital is crucial to allow Europe to seize the opportunity to improve its productivity through greater use of new technologies.
"To this effect attracting talent, making the best use of the existing labour pool and investing in education and training are all enablers to make Europe more competitive."
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