Poland Needs to Bridge Competency Gap to Stay Competitive in Digital Economy

Andrzej Dulka
Dr. Eng. Andrzej Dulka, President of the Polish Chamber of Information Technology and Telecommunications

Cybersecurity competencies are currently the most sought-after technological skills, especially in the Central and Eastern Europe region, and the competency gap in this area has intensified further following Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, as reported by the Polish Chamber of Information Technology and Telecommunications. The report indicates that Poland currently faces a shortage of over 10,000 cybersecurity specialists, and the demand for them will rapidly increase soon, partly due to the implementation of the NIS2 Directive. There is also a growing demand for competencies related to artificial intelligence, 5G, the Internet of Things, and data analytics. The lack of specialists in these areas limits companies’ ability to develop and implement innovations, hence experts point to the urgent need to bridge competency gaps.

Dr. Eng. Andrzej Dulka, President of the Polish Chamber of Information Technology and Telecommunications, says that the level of education in Poland’s teleinformatics and telecommunications industry is commendable. Major global corporations like Samsung, Ericsson, and Nokia have established their research and development centers in Poland, and software and the latest technologies related to 5G are being developed in Poland, within the framework of international cooperation. Polish R&D staff collaborate with the United States and Asia. When comparing Polish engineers with engineers in other geographic regions, their competencies are at least equal, if not higher, and at the highest global level. What distinguishes Poland and makes it competitive, for example, compared to the United States, is still the cost of labor. However, it’s not about being more expensive or cheaper; it’s about efficiency.

According to the European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI Index 2022), Poland still ranks only 24th among EU countries in terms of digital technology integration. Therefore, the most important challenge for the coming years will be the modern development of the digital economy based on innovative technologies in artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, the Internet of Things, cloud computing, and the 5G ecosystem, which can become a new driver of economic growth. However, this requires the availability of educated staff. Despite high competencies, there are still not enough of them in Poland.

The report by the Polish Chamber of Information Technology and Telecommunications (PIIT) shows that employing experienced technological specialists and maintaining current competence pools in organizations was a serious challenge for both technology providers and recipients in 2022. Due to the lack of appropriate technological competencies, digital transformation projects in European organizations were delayed by an average of over eight months. According to IDC research, as many as 53% of organizations in Europe and 33% in Poland had difficulty filling technology positions last year. The most sought-after technological competencies, especially in the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region, are related to cybersecurity.

Wiesław Paluszyński, President of the Polish Information Processing Society and Chairman of the Sectoral Council for Competencies in Telecommunications and Cybersecurity, warns that a lack of cybersecurity competencies threatens problems in the operation of IT systems. If an adequate level of cybersecurity is not ensured, the risk of conducting business or providing public services becomes unacceptably high. Companies could lose all their data, upon which their business future depends.

According to the PIIT report, Poland lacks 50,000 IT experts, of which up to 20% may be those specializing in cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity requires horizontal skills. To function in this area, cognitive, soft, and technical competencies are needed to recognize threats from the technological side, says Wiesław Paluszyński. Currently, some Polish universities offer postgraduate studies in cybersecurity, but this is a drop in the ocean of needs. This year, when the NIS2 directive enters into Polish law, the demand for cybersecurity specialists will increase geometrically. This presents a huge competency challenge.

The Directive on measures for a high common level of cybersecurity across the European Union, or NIS2, is one of the most important regulations that will soon come into effect at the European and national levels. It is estimated that due to its implementation, several thousand companies in Poland will be subject to new obligations. In addition, new digital resilience regulations are being created for specific sectors, such as the Digital Operational Resilience Act (DORA) for the financial sector, which aims to set a European standard for digital resilience in the financial sector.

These new regulations mean that, in addition to software and hardware, Polish organizations will soon need comprehensive security services to ensure their continuity of operations and compliance with EU regulations. The consulting firm IDC predicts that the average annual growth rate (CAGR) of the Polish cybersecurity services market will be 12.5% in 2023-2027.

Beata Ostrowska, Vice-Chairperson of the Sectoral Council for Competencies in Telecommunications and Cybersecurity, emphasizes that increasing the number of cybersecurity specialists is a challenging issue, as this field is rapidly evolving with swift technological changes. Therefore, efforts are being made to ensure that schools and universities collaborate with businesses to best prepare graduates – both from vocational schools and universities – to enter this job market.

Experts also point to competency gaps in artificial intelligence, a technology that impacts businesses from nearly every industry, with many managers seeing it as an opportunity for process automation, implementing new business models, and building competitive advantages. However, few employees have the necessary skills to implement and work with such systems. Despite many initiatives aimed at improving education, there is still a noticeable lack of specialists, limiting companies’ ability to invest in this technology.

Wiesław Paluszyński highlights the importance of competencies in ensuring data quality, which will later teach the artificial intelligence the behaviors that are desired. If this is done incorrectly, the behaviors will be undesirable, and that will pose a problem. This shows that the competency gap in artificial intelligence is quite significant.

A study conducted earlier this year, “The Impact of New Technology Development Trends on the Competency Needs of the IT Sector,” by the Sectoral Council for Competencies – Informatics and Antal company, found that 85% of respondents (representatives of IT companies and IT departments of non-IT companies) believe that new competencies will be largely needed due to the development of artificial intelligence. Managers most frequently indicated machine learning (68%), Python (61%), and experience in working with data science and artificial intelligence libraries (56%). At the same time, 65% of all respondents (including 80% of IT sector managers) assessed that previously valued competencies in the market will not lose importance but will only change in their scope of application. Maintenance and documentation (22%) and competencies in programming environments (19%) were most often indicated as skills that might lose significance.

Dr. Dawid Dymkowski, an expert at the Educational Research Institute, says that the educational sector should focus on digital competencies, with elements related to artificial intelligence or machine learning in education, so that young people do not fall behind.

The challenge for schools and universities is that they find it difficult to introduce changes on an ongoing basis. Schools can only do this through cooperation with technology companies, which, by organizing additional classes, can introduce technological innovations into the curriculum, allowing students to access the latest solutions, adds Beata Ostrowska.

Experts indicate that without long-term and multidimensional solutions, the competency gap will deepen. Therefore, technology companies should cooperate with the government, universities, and commercial organizations to create programs that enable ongoing educational activities to continuously raise relevant competencies and attract new workers to the IT industry.

Dr. Eng. Andrzej Dulka notes that many positive examples exist, with universities asking what specialists and competencies businesses need. In various initiatives organized in collaboration with universities and technical colleges, businesses meet with students to discuss expectations, what is good to know from the first days in a company, what competencies are needed, and how to get involved in the company’s activities. Businesses highly value this collaboration, as well as the engineering staff, since many of these students start working in business during their studies.

Experts from the Educational Research Institute emphasize the important role played by the Sectoral Council for Competencies in Telecommunications and Cybersecurity in coordinating this collaboration between science and business and filling the competency gap in the technology and telecommunications industry.

The challenges related to the competency gap and the role of collaboration between science and business in this area were discussed by experts during the VIII Forum of Education and Business Cooperation – EDUMIXER. The conference, organized by the Polish Chamber of Information Technology and Telecommunications in cooperation with the Polish Information Processing Society as part of the Sectoral Council for Competencies in Telecommunications and Cybersecurity, took place on October 30 at the Newseria Press Center.