The European Commission (EC) has warned of a potential 350,000-plus shortfall in IT practitioners in the region by 2015, and criticised the UK for failing adequately to promote professionalism in the industry.
EC principal administrator André Richier was speaking at an e-Skills event at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills today about the need to increase the number of trained IT professionals.
The number of IT practitioners has doubled since 1995, but Richier warned that there is still a declining supply.
"We may have an excess demand of 384,000 ICT practitioners by 2015," he said. "In five years' time only 10 per cent of all jobs in the EU will not require e-skills."
Richier went on to discuss the need for a "broad spectrum alliance" between the government, business and media to better promote the profession. "The image of the IT practitioner will soon no longer be a nerd," he said.
Richier added that, although Europe has four million IT practitioners, 50 per cent are not IT degree qualified.
"This is a danger. Would you go to your hospital and be treated by someone who has not studied medicine? I don't think so," he said.
"It is important that they have a professional degree because of the pervasiveness and importance of IT and to increase the professionalism of the IT workforce. In the UK we are not doing so well. Germany is doing better as it has a stronger educational framework."
However, not all attendees at the e-Skills event agreed. Some argued that companies want IT practitioners with business experience and project management skills as well as technical qualifications.
British Computer Society chief executive David Clarke pointed out that at IBM, one of the world's most successful technology companies, degrees in music are the most common among staff.
Others commenting from the floor argued that interviews rather than paper qualifications should be of most importance when hiring IT professionals in order to gauge their capabilities.
"The skills they learn at degree level might not even be relevant when they start their career after three years' studying," said one.
But Richier maintained that the "kernel of IT professionals" should be trained in IT.
"You sometimes get people with no training that are cowboys or charlatans, and sometimes chief executives are worried about such people," he said. "We need to strengthen the IT profession and this means giving people the right training. "
Sue Black, head of the department of information and software systems at the University of Westminster, agreed with Richier and argued that, even though IT is a fast moving sector, training remains relevant.
"Maybe the programming language they learn will not be relevant in three years' time, but the underlying principles are still relevant," she said. "If the more fundamental skills are there [in the course], they will always be appropriate. You can't disregard training."
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