Academy Cube aims to tackle IT skills shortage with online learning platform

Tackling youth unemployment is more important than the current financial crisis, according to European Commissioner Neelie Kroes

Software vendors, academic institutions and government agencies united on Tuesday to tackle European youth unemployment and the IT skills shortage with a new online education platform.

Academy Cube, developed by SAP with the support of the European Commission, will focus on teaching IT skills and matching students with job vacancies. It runs on a learning management system developed by SuccessFactors, a company SAP acquired last year.

"The real issue we have to tackle is not the financial crisis, but youth unemployment," said Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, at a launch event for the platform at the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany. In some European Union member states, the youth unemployment rate is almost 60 percent, she said.

Paradoxically, at the same time there are between 700,000 and 1 million job vacancies in Europe, estimated SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe. They can't be filled because young people lack the required IT skills, he said.

"We are creating, with partners, a digital learning system so they can become more skilled," he said. "This is open to all companies."

Initial partners include Microsoft, LinkedIn, Software AG, ThyssenKrupp, Robert Bosch, the German Federal Employment Agency and a number of academic institutions and training providers.

Students who create an account on the platform will see a range of courses and the job opportunities they open up, or they can consult job vacancies and see which courses they need to follow in order to apply. They can follow the courses at their own pace, returning automatically to where they left off the next time they log in.

The website is now live, and a handful of students are already enrolled, Snabe said.

SAP has invested "a few million euros to get the platform up and running," said Snabe. "The costs now will be adding the content and recruiting people."

Those costs will mostly be borne by the companies contributing training or seeking skilled employees: At least at first, the enrollment and training will be free for students. Snabe did not rule out a fee later, but did say the platform's purpose is not to make a profit.

Kroes said she thought the platform could be a win-win proposition for students and industry, a sentiment echoed by Snabe.

"We will never compete on price for an hour of labor here in Europe, but with the right training we might compete on the productivity of an hour of labor," he said.

Although countries such as Greece and Spain have the highest youth unemployment, and German companies are building the platform, the training will be provided in English.

"English gives global access to IT," Snabe said.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
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