IT companies are finding it harder to recruit skilled workers, and government and industry alike must take action to restore the balance. That was the message from industry and government leaders at the opening ceremony of CeBIT, the world's largest IT trade show, in Hanover, Germany, on Wednesday night.
In Germany, too few IT specialists are being trained, said Willi Berchtold, president of the German Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media (Bitkom).
"Our companies are finding it increasingly difficult, and occasionally impossible, to fill vacant positions," he said.
That threatens German industry's capacity to innovate: without a critical mass of talented specialists, it will be unable to hold its ground against international competition, he said.
The problem is not limited to Germany alone, said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"There is a lack of skilled workers in this country and in the European Union," she said.
She agreed with Berchtold that one reason companies are struggling to recruit is that the number of IT graduates is going down.
But companies could do more to help themselves by retaining, or recruiting, older workers and retraining them.
"People of a certain higher age should not be shoved aside," she said.
Patricia Russo, CEO of Alcatel Lucent SA, a network equipment manufacturer with roots in the U.S. and Europe, echoed the call for more training.
"A steady stream of innovative minds is vital to the future of our industry," she said. "We need to encourage local governments to support science and engineering and other technical subjects in our education systems."
She had another solution, though: "Bridging the digital divide" in order to find skilled workers elsewhere. In North America, she said, 70 percent of the population have Internet access, and in Europe the figure is 40 percent. But in Asia it is only 10 percent -- and just 4 percent in Africa.
"The broadband access gap actually widening," she warned.
To close that gap, initiatives such as the company's "Broadband for all" program, and the $100 laptop project begun at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), are needed to improve educational standards, knowledge acquisition and literacy levels in developing economies, she said.
Bridging the digital divide "will lead to the discovery of new ideas from all around the world," she said.