In less than a decade, Switzerland will have too few professionals specialising in information and communication technology (ICT).
Two studies commissioned by the training association ICT Switzerland (ICTS) show that there is a desperate need for new talent in the field of ICT.
According to ICTS, there will be 32,000 vacant ICT jobs in 2017. This is despite the fact that the industry accounts for five per cent of gross domestic product, or SFr25 billion ($25.3 billion).
“When the dot-com bubble burst at the beginning of 2000, a lot of ICT professionals lost their jobs. That made people feel insecure, and after that, fewer young people wanted to study ICT,” ICTS President Andreas Kaelin told swissinfo.ch.
He added that the lone computer geek image was not helping matters: “It’s still seen as a profession where someone sits in a lonely little room and programs something – but it’s becoming a key competitive factor for businesses. ICT professionals develop solutions with their companies to make them more competitive. So these workers can really contribute to a company’s success.”
In early 2011, the ICTS will launch a campaign to get more young people interested in an ICT career.
“We have to sell ICT differently. For example, we should already be telling primary school children about the career possibilities that exist in this field,” Kaelin said, noting that the prospects are quite good.
If there are too few ICT professionals in the future, the existing ones will likely enjoy better salaries and working conditions.
ICTS hopes to double the number of degrees in the field and to increase the percentage of female ICT workers. In Switzerland, women account for about 11 per cent of ICT specialists.
Training is key
Based on the results of the studies, ICTS is calling for an additional 3,000 apprenticeship slots to educate the industry’s future workforce.
Training new talent is the responsibility of individual companies, and they need some pressure to provide those apprenticeships, according to economiesuisse chief economist Rudolf Minsch.
“After the dot-com crisis many firms were a bit reluctant to hire new staff in [the form of] an apprenticeship because they did not know what the future would bring. Especially young enterprises in the ICT sector probably do not think first of educating people because this is only in the long-term rather than the short-term interest,” Minsch said.
Canton Zurich has a new law to encourage firms to hire apprentices. Those without trainee positions must contribute to a fund that helps support the companies that do.
Minsch predicts that the recent studies will help inspire businesses to organise apprenticeships in a more professional way as they consider the future.
“A positive side effect of this campaign is that all members of the industry know that they will see a shortage and that they have to do something about it,” Minsch said.
ICTS believes it can convince companies that hiring trainees is worth the investment.
“There are numbers that show that properly trained apprentices are productive and bring in more money than they cost. But we also want to show that it’s important to have the right employees who understand a company’s core business – training them yourself is a good opportunity for that,” Kaelin said.
Apart from that, it is practical to let the trainees perform routine tasks while the more experienced employees tackle other work.
In its new campaign, ICTS also wants to tell the public how important the industry is for the Swiss economy. Only a third of ICT workers work for software, hardware, internet and telecom companies – the other two-thirds are employed by banks, insurance companies and other service enterprises.
As Minsch points out, a lot of these jobs go to non-Swiss workers: “Many foreigners are hired in the whole ICT sector because it’s just impossible to hire enough Swiss residents. The problem is that there is a shortage all over the world.”
ICT workers in Switzerland
ICT = Information and Communication Technology
People with an ICT degree: 118,800
People working in ICT: 170,700
People with an ICT degree working in ICT: 76,900
Source: SAKE 2009
ICT Switzerland commissioned two studies: one focused on the education of ICT professionals, the other on the field of ICT in Switzerland.
Both studies were funded by the public coffers as well as Stiftung IT-Berufsbildung Schweiz, a foundation that helps educate IT workers.
According to one of the studies, big companies in Switzerland especially find that there are too few ICT workers.
Only 42% of companies with fewer than 50 workers said that there was a shortage. That percentage jumped to 70% for medium-sized companies and to 97% for firms with more than 250 employees.
Meanwhile, a browse of online listings reveals that there are a number of ICT positions available.
In mid-November 2010, 1,400 of the 3,755 jobs listed on employment portal Monster.ch were in the ICT industry.
Meanwhile, a spot check of the career page at Swiss Re reinsurance revealed 20 vacant IT positions out of 191 open full-time jobs in Switzerland. In comparison, it was just two out of 55 jobs at lift company Schindler.