What skills are European IT employers looking for?
Many companies throughout Europe are concerned that IT talent pools are shrinking.
The European Commission issued a warning at the start of last year that technology skills gaps were forming. EU leaders have launched numerous campaigns to raise awareness of the issue, with many of them aimed at encouraging more youngsters to study technology-based subjects at school and university.
According to the EU, a staggering 90 per cent of all jobs will require people to have some form of e-skills by 2015. In 2007, there were 4.7 million IT professionals working across Europe and this figure is predicted to rise to 5.26 million in 2015. While this is a sizeable jump, it is still wholly inadequate to satisfy the rapidly growing demand for talented technology experts.
There is a particularly worrying shortfall of people with the very highest qualifications - the type of professionals that can slot straight into a business and make an instant impact. The European Commission believes an extra 12 million highly skilled IT roles will be created between 2012 and 2020, so the issue is only likely to become more pronounced.
But what exactly are employers looking for?
Rapid advancements in technology have inevitably had an effect on the type of people employers are now seeking. The digitalisation of society means businesses can ill afford to experience prolonged periods of downtime and IT project managers need to have a range of skills in order to keep everything running smoothly.
Here is a guide to some of the traits and skills that businesses are now expecting to see in IT specialists.
Business acumen and financial skills
Management structures have changed immeasurably in the past few years and Chief Information Officers (CIOs) are now expected to perform more duties. The consumerisation of IT has meant the lines that separate each department within a corporation have become somewhat blurred.
Now it is not uncommon to see the Chief Financial Officer having more of a say in what media tablets or smartphones an organisation will use. Equally, this means the most successful CIOs will need to have a concept of what certain technology will cost and how much of the overall budget will be needed.
Some Chief Executive Officers will take a more proactive approach towards integrating new technology and systems into a business than in previous generations. As well as providing technical support, CIOs are increasingly being asked to contribute in other areas of a business.
David Willis of technology research firm Gartner summed up the new way in which modern companies are operating when he said: "Great business leaders have exciting ideas for what they want to do with technology and perhaps even feel some frustration at not being able to get there as fast as their competitors.
"The CIO has to build on the desires of business leaders, recognising that they are a lot more technology savvy than they were even a few years ago."
Big data analysis
Europe is in the middle of a big data boom, with companies garnering information from all manner of places. There is a dearth of skilled analysts who are capable of extracting maximum value out of the reams of data corporations now generate.
Richard Rodts, Manager of Global Academic Programs at technology giant IBM, believes there will be a significant increase in the number of big data projects being launched globally in the coming years.
"Leaders in business, education and government must take action to foster a new generation of talent with the technical expertise and unique ideas to make the most of this tsunami of big data," he remarked.
IBM has recognised the fact there is a serious skills gap in this area and has started to collaborate with more than a thousand universities globally in the hope that more youngsters will realise how important it is for IT professionals to have impeccable analytical skills.
Social media knowledge
Social media platforms have grown considerably in recent years and are now viewed as essential business tools. Facebook has in excess of one billion active monthly users and more than three million corporations now have a LinkedIn account.
Social networking sites are evolving and IT experts need to develop new features. Instagram is a good example of a site that has changed significantly in the past year. The photo-sharing website revealed in June that it was launching video services for the first time - allowing users to send short clips to other account holders.
Video is revolutionising social media and this is something that IT professionals need to adapt to. YouTube attracts more than one billion unique users every month and 100 hours of footage are uploaded on to the site every minute.
With so many people using social media for work and personal purposes, it is important that companies have strong policies in place to govern the use of sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and CIOs should be involved in implementing these regulations.
Cyber security experience
Businesses and public sector bodies are constantly being targeted by hackers and this is one of the biggest challenges facing CIOs. The EU announced in July 2013 that a new Directive is being introduced to ensure member states are doing all they can to protect themselves against cyber criminals.
On launching the legislation, Cecilia Malmstrom, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, said: "I trust that member states will act swiftly and promptly to implement the new rules that define criminal offences and sanctions in the area of cybercrime, improve the reporting of relevant cyber-incidents to law enforcement authorities and provide for the sharing of member states' crime statistics with the EU."
While it is good to see European leaders taking a proactive approach towards eradicating cyber crime, these new laws will ramp up the pressure on IT departments. With more employees now choosing to use their own devices for work purposes, the chances of important company data being stolen or misplaced have greatly increased.
Bring-your-own-device policies are now commonplace in many firms and as online attacks become more sophisticated, it is crucial that employers have access to a pool of talented IT professionals who have experience of dealing with internal and external threats.
Many companies are choosing to outsource large parts of their IT infrastructure and there are a number of reasons for this. Some businesses do not have the necessary in-house expertise to migrate so much data to the cloud, while others do not have the financial power to overhaul their systems themselves.
Migrating to the cloud enables businesses to be far more flexible. A greater number of employees are now working remotely, so being able to access vital company data and important documents from a mobile device is paramount.
Research undertaken by Markets and Markets highlighted how many organisations are now outsourcing their cloud computing processes to third-party enterprises. Taking just the global healthcare sector into account, the IT outsourcing market is expected to be worth $50.4 billion worldwide by 2018.
Although outsourcing cloud networks can take some of the strain off the IT department, CIOs still need to know what to do if things suddenly go wrong, so a high level of cloud knowledge is essential.
Be willing to learn
These are just some of the many skills employers are looking for in IT professionals. IT is a fast-paced industry and specialists who think they have mastered the profession will soon get left behind.
With so many jobs expected to open up across Europe by 2020, there will be lots of opportunities for qualified technology experts who are willing to adapt to widespread changes within the sector. Companies might find talent pools sparsely populated at the moment, but this could change in the future as governments across Europe continue to encourage more young people to pursue a career in IT.
There is already evidence of this happening, with education boards radically overhauling school curriculums to ensure people gain practical skills that will make them more valuable to employers. Businesses are also having a greater say in what colleges and universities are teaching, enabling the next generation of IT specialists to make an instant impact when they eventually qualify.
The future is bright for the IT industry, but it is clear that plenty of work needs to be done if companies are to fully benefit from the digitalisation of society.