Europe faces an IT skills shortage as accelerating retirement rates, a decline in the number of IT graduates and changing skills requirements collide with growing demand for specialists with more business-oriented profiles.
A report by Forrester Research argues that while the educational system should be able to produce the growing numbers of IT/business analysts, architects, enterprise program managers, and vendor managers that business needs in coming years, this will take too long to meet increasing demand from employers.
"Other sources of talent, such as service providers, also need staff with technical skills — and the lack of new IT graduates gives them cause for concern, too," said Richard Peynot, Senior Analyst at Forrester Research.
"All the evidence indicates that Europe faces a serious risk of a shortage of IT skills and Forrester believes that companies need to take action now to support long-term IT competency needs and to pay close attention to the implications of renewed competition for the best talents."
Simply hiring more staff is not the answer, the report warns, because Europe's education system is not producing technically-savvy graduates who also have skills in areas such as business, management, finance, architecture, and contracts.
Indeed, nine out of 10 of the companies surveyed for the report said that the educational system is failing to adapt rapidly enough to meet these new challenges.
While some companies may have a clear picture of their future IT skills needs in mind, few academic IT departments yet reflect this profile in their curricula; and - as Forrester uncovered in a parallel study of European technical universities and engineering schools - academia has barely begun to transform its IT programs.
Meanwhile, many European countries are seeing the same decline in the numbers of students studying computer sciences that has been noted in the U.S.
The result is that European governments face an uphill task to meet the bare minimum of IT skills that industry and commerce need, let alone reach the ambitious targets of the EU's Lisbon Agenda.
However much of this waning enthusiasm for IT among young people is self-created, a result of the growing trend towards offshoring positions in development and operations. If young people view IT careers as increasingly insecure what incentive is there for them to want to spend years acquiring skills that might be worthless when they graduate?
The dichotomy facing companies is that they cannot afford to move all responsibilities and decisions to outsourced service providers.
Security, enterprise and technical architecture, innovative solutions, new technologies, and evolving business remain critical challenges. The decisions should be made internally by people with high skill levels - positions that Forrester believes are not "offshorable."
"These high-level positions require experience and a relevant background," Richard Peynot said.
"The educational system may take some time to align its programs with demand — so companies should seriously evaluate the possibility of training adults either internally or through partnerships with universities."