Skills Intelligence Publication

With the uptake of the new technologies, the demand for specialised ICT personnel is growing steadily worldwide and Europe has a high-tech skills shortage that could threaten to undermine its digital autonomy. The topic is addressed in “Europe needs High-Tech talent – Investing in people to counter oligopolistic dynamics and dependencies in technology markets” from the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS). This policy brief maps the EU digital skills gaps and explores policy measures to counteract the self-reinforcing dynamics that tend to concentrate talent in the hands of a few technological leaders.


A few firms in the US and China control key layers of the digital supply chain. This geographic and economic concentration creates dependencies for the EU. So far, the block has focused on regulating firms to mitigate the risks. Yet it has neglected educating people to support genuine independence. The EU counts too few digitally skilled graduates, and too many leave the continent to join other tech hubs. This shortage reinforces market concentration, as the biggest firms pay the most competitive salaries and attract a large share of the global talent. It also hampers ongoing regulatory efforts: the EU cannot police technologies it does not understand.

High-tech skills are critically undersupplied and are a major bottleneck in a digital economy that relies on human talent to turn data into valuable intelligence. Data may fuel the new economy, but it is by no means a scarce resource. What is rare is the ability to turn the raw information into economic value.

The EU acknowledges the need for more skills, but fails to propose adequate remedies, or even to establish the right objective. Its flagship digital strategy focuses on number of ICT specialists – a target that is much too broad to meaningfully support strategic autonomy objectives. The EU needs to refine its success metrics and track unmet employer demand for specific advanced digital skills and unmet student demand for specific programmes.

EU action plans, including the European Skills Agenda and Digital Education Action Plan, could help address this. Yet, the lack of clear lines of accountability bode ill for their effective implementation. Obtaining the requisite skills for a more autonomous digital economy and society requires a co-ordinated approach within and between EU countries – one that leverages a wide range of policy areas and exploits linkages between them. High-tech talent is drawn to vibrant technological centres; and while dynamic digital markets will not exist without a skilled workforce, a skilled workforce without local market dynamism is a recipe for brain-drain. 

In fact, losing sovereignty in the digital space would leave the EU vulnerable to supply shocks in technologies that increasingly power all sectors of the economy. It could also leave the Union susceptible to blackmail or unable to regulate foundational technologies according to its own values. Strategic autonomy in digital technologies requires the EU to promote dynamism all along the digital supply chain.