Poor IT skills could stall Europe's economic recovery, according to figures released by the European Union on Monday.
The annual digital agenda scoreboard showed that only half of the European labor force has sufficient IT skills for the jobs that are available. According to the figures only 43 percent of the E.U. population has medium or high Internet skills and can, for example, "use the Internet to make a phone call or create a web page." Almost a quarter have no ICT skills at all. It is estimated that ICT vacancies will number 700,000 by 2015.
The European IT sector is currently worth 6 percent of E.U. GDP and accounts for more than 8 million jobs. Although there is growing demand for ever-faster Internet access and more mobile connectivity, online shopping is still a national activity, with only a 10th of online consumers shopping across borders. In addition, the majority of small and medium-size companies (SMEs) neither shop nor sell online and commercial research investment has stalled.
"This attachment to 20th century policy mindsets and business models is hurting Europe's economy. It's a terrible shame. We are shooting ourselves in the foot by under-investing. Europe will be flattened by its global competitors if we continue to be complacent," said Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes in a statement.
Despite this the European Commission saw some cause for optimism: mobile Internet take-up in the past year grew by 62 percent to 217 million mobile broadband subscriptions; 68 percent of Europeans are online regularly and 170 million use social networks; and for the first time a majority of economically disadvantaged Europeans have used the Internet.
The Commission has ambitious digital targets. It wants every European citizen to have access to 30M bps (bits per second) broadband by 2020 with half of all subscribers connected to 100M bps services. "The telecoms sector has a key role to play in the race towards a digital E.U. society, where growth and jobs can be delivered by better and faster online activities," said Monday's statement. But the Commission added that more coordinated implementation of the telecom rules would be required to support the roll-out of high speed Internet.
There are currently major variations in the price of broadband products among E.U. countries, member states have vastly differing rules on net neutrality and, according to the Commission, telecom companies continue to charge exorbitant prices for mobile roaming.
The European Telecommunications Network Operators association, ETNO, took the announcement as a opportunity to once again call for access prices to copper networks to be maintained. "The role of copper networks to achieve the Digital Agenda goals should not be underestimated," it said.
New regulation for the harmonization of eSignatures and other trust services, an eCommerce action plan to facilitate cross-border access to online products and E.U. strategies for cloud computing and Internet security will all be thrashed out by the European legislators next year.