• 2001-10-04
Despite the burst of the dot-com bubble and the slowdown of e-commerce due to fraud, the IT industry still plays a dominant role in the global economy.

In fact, the industry is developing so fast that the movers and shakers of the world can't decide on how to regulate it. Laws regulating media content and liability, copyright and labor, have become ineffective and inapplicable when it comes to Web-based media and their content.

And new technologies are so dynamic that old education systems are unable to adapt to them. As a result, some 20 percent of IT-related vacancies will be left unfilled in Europe by 2003.

Some Western IT giants like Compaq and organizations like the OECD have suggested the European Union create a pan-EU work permit for IT professionals from outside the EU to help solve the labor shortage. This would be a great boost for young people in the Baltics who are trying to get the necessary education.

That IT has boomed in the Baltics since independence comes as no surprise. The Balts have a long tradition of studying natural sciences and mathematics.

Estonia's example is particularly striking, with 35 percent of the population using the Internet, all schools and government bodies connected to the Net and 80 percent of the private sector being able to access it.

Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar can proudly boast that his government was the first in the world to switch from paper documents to electronic ones.

In Latvia, the situation is not so bright as home Internet penetration is only 3 percent of the population and only 14 percent of schools are connected to the Net.

In Latvia, six universities offer programs in computer sciences and IT, with 2000 students graduating each year. This seems not bad, but around 5,000 specialists would have to graduate annually to satisfy current demand for IT specialists in the domestic job market. Not that graduates can look forward to employment with a top-class company, since none of the world's giants has facilities in Latvia. Out of 500 companies working in the IT sphere in Latvia, only 20 employ more than 100 people.

More lenient laws in the EU regarding outsourcing of IT specialists would not only boost Europe's economy, they would improve the prospects of young Balts, who all too often succumb to binge-drinking and drugs.