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Leaders with strong technical skills

Europe needs more leaders with strong technical skills. 

The ‘High-Tech and Leadership Skills for Europe’ conference on 26 January highlighted the need for more leaders and professionals with high-tech skills if Europe is to keep pace with fast and disruptive technological change and stressed the following.

The supply of high-tech skills is back on a solid growth track. It is anticipated that the number of IT practitioners in the EU will grow from 8 million in 2015 to almost 8.7 million in 2020. The latest estimate (January 2017) of the gap between demand and supply is 500,000 in 2020, down from an estimate of 756,000 released in December 2015. This reduction of the gap comes, at least in part, from an increased number of IT professionals coming out of higher education (HE) and vocational training (VET). It is estimated that 240,000 graduates from IT-related HE programmes and VET schemes keep entering the labour market per year, plus more than 100,000 new IT practitioners who don’t have a formal degree (‘lateral entries’). Newly-created jobs (expansion demand) account for 33-40% of the number of new entrants.

An analysis of recent developments in job statistics over the past few years hint at a polarization of skills. Both the highest-skills category (ICT management, architecture and analysis jobs) and the lowest-skills category (ICT servicers and mechanics) have gained considerable shares in overall employment over the last 5 years (8.3% and 7.4% annually, respectively). Mid-level skills, especially at the associate and technician level, have seen lesser gains and might come under pressure as productivity gains from automation and commoditization of IT services continue. Continuous, life-long education and training therefore gain more relevance than ever as industry strives to develop professionalism and keep up with change.

Leadership skills enabling managers and entrepreneurs to exploit new digital technologies to excel in their business operations are crucial factors for the high-tech economy. An estimated 600,000 such leaders were in post in 2015, and a conservative growth scenario suggests a need for 694,000 innovation leaders in Europe in 2020 and 805,000 in 2025. Previous research has shown that around 60% can be found in business units other than the IT department. This scenario would require Europe to generate around 40,000 – 50,000 additional innovation leaders per year in the years up to 2025, or almost 400,000 until 2025, providing them with relevant education and exposing them to the necessary work and leadership experience. If Europe does not supply these additional innovation leaders, positions will remain vacant, or be filled by ill-equipped managers.

It is estimated that out of the 953,000 additional KETs (Key Enabling Technologies) professionals required between 2013 and 2025, 85,770 new leaders will be needed up until 2025. European industrial companies report considerable challenges in finding KETs leaders who simultaneously possess a strong technical background, strong business sense, and strategic vision. This is vital for ‘mid-level’ leaders, i.e. leaders of groups and specific project teams. A new generation of KETs leaders is needed, able to spot, create and fundamentally serve new markets. Two specific directions of action include measures related to the educational processes before entering the job market and measures related to advancing the workforce ‘on the job’. Redesigned curricula need to stimulate multidisciplinary orientation and entrepreneurial agility. On-the-job training, in turn, needs to maximize the exposure of the workforce to relevant job experiences. Specific measures here include mobility along the value chain, mobility to application areas, and multi-disciplinary teams. Multiple good practices already exist that build on these principles and these need to be adopted on a broader scale.

Presentations from the conference are available for download. 

In addition, the e-Skills Manifesto can be downloaded and information on the Blueprint for sectoral cooperation on skills is available: