Cybersecurity, software design, IT systems architecture, network management... Despite their promising career prospects, the information technology (IT) or information and communication technology (ICT) professions are short of specialists, and the number of young talents graduating each year is no longer sufficient to meet a shortage that is affecting all sectors. The demand for specialized IT profiles, exacerbated by the impact of the health crisis on the working world, continues to grow in all areas. Switzerland has long compensated for this by attracting foreign candidates, but it will no longer be able to do so: if nothing is done, there will be a shortfall of around 40,000 professionals by 2030, according to ICT-VET Switzerland, the national organization responsible for all Federal vocational qualifications in the IT and digital professions. Serge Frech, its director, explains.
Which sectors are affected by this shortage of specialists?
Serge Frech: IT encompasses all professions that are involved in the planning, installation, creation and operation of computer systems and communication technologies in the broadest sense. However, only 34% of IT specialists work for companies that are active in the industry as such, i.e., IT service providers. The rest work in all economic sectors, and also in administration and education. Added to this are all the companies beginning to digitize or automate certain tasks, particularly in the insurance, finance, and trade sectors. The requirements are becoming increasingly important in all sectors.
Are all businesses struggling to recruit?
Frech: The shortage affects all sectors in several ways. Today, more than 246,000 people are employed in the ICT professions. According to the latest edition of the sector study, conducted by us over the past ten years, the industry will need to employ at least 300,000 specialists by 2030 – the increase in demand has been somewhat underestimated. A company like Google will obviously have less difficulty hiring a specialist than an SME, which will struggle to match the working conditions and career opportunities that an industry giant can offer. On the other hand, the latter will have trouble recruiting and retaining several hundred of them. The pool of talent has simply dried up: by 2030 there will be a shortage of around 40,000 IT professionals in Switzerland.
Does this affect salaries?
Frech: SwissICT publishes an annual study on this topic. The latest trends show that companies have reached a plateau in terms of salaries after years of increases. Employers no longer wish to go beyond a certain threshold and are seeking to attract candidates through other incentives: flexibility, good working conditions, pleasant professional environment, etc.
Is hiring foreign professionals a solution?
Frech: Indeed, Switzerland has long recruited international talent. Overall, 32% of the professionals working in this sector are foreign nationals, compared to an economy-wide average of 26%. This workforce is clearly over-represented. While valuable, these reinforcements are not a long-term solution. On the one hand, countries such as Scandinavia and the Netherlands are increasingly attracting this type of talent. On the other hand, these professionals tend to be highly mobile, and therefore difficult to retain. Our capacity to train enough Swiss specialists must be strengthened, both in terms of basic training and continuing education.
Few women work in ICT. Could the demand be met by attracting young women?
Frech: Women represent 17% of ICT specialists, but a few particularly powerful stereotypes remain: as in other scientific fields, tech professions continue to be associated as largely male-dominated, which contributes to discouraging young women from entering the field. To attract them, it is important to highlight the advantages of a career in this sector: attractive salary levels, a high degree of flexibility, prospects for development and the possibility of creating useful solutions, in close contact with users, for example.
Is this why ICT-VET Switzerland has changed the structure of its VET programs?
Frech: Basic training is constantly evolving to meet the needs of the economic world and professionals, with whom we maintain constant links through regional associations. We have reformed the CFCs for computer scientists and media specialists, and have also worked on the introduction of a new CFC for "Digital Business Developers", which will be available by January 2023. Its aim is to train young graduates who are well versed in business processes, capable of analyzing user demands and developing processes and products designed to meet their requirements. The key challenge of these reforms is to be able to identify a need in order to provide an adequate response.
What other changes are needed?
Frech: Regular adjustments are still essential as 80% of the specialists who enter the market have completed this type of professional training. But this will not be enough to cover the needs of companies, which are growing far more rapidly than our capacity to meet them. In addition to increasing the number of apprenticeship places available, the number of graduates for all levels of training should be doubled. Ultimately, we need to encourage retraining and develop continuing education to guarantee the country's long-term digital autonomy. I also believe that political leaders must take up this issue to ensure that the entire sector is supported.