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Apple's Italian job for finding top talent

By Sean Coughlan
Education correspondent

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Computer giant Apple is expanding its supply line of talented young people with digital skills, by doubling the intake of its European academy.

Last year, the technology company opened an academy in Naples, in Italy, where students spend a year training to be developers, coders, app creators and start-up entrepreneurs.

Places are awarded through open competition - with tests being held next month in Munich, Paris, London, Madrid, Rome and Naples - with no tuition fees, open to applicants from anywhere in the world and with courses taught in English.

There will be 400 students recruited for the autumn, expected to be in the 18 to 30 age range, for courses run in partnership with a Naples university, the University of Federico II.

The decision for a computer company to move so directly into education is about self-interest as much as philanthropy.

There has been a long-running digital skills gap - and Apple are taking steps to grow their own talent.


Computer apps, in the space of less than decade, have become a major source of revenue and jobs.

Apple says there are now two million apps available on its online store - and that in Europe alone, the app economy sustains 1.2 million jobs.

image captionApple's academy will double its intake to 400 students in the autumn

But there have been repeated warnings of a mismatch between the digital skills needed for such new jobs and the qualifications of those looking for work.

It means that unskilled workers are without employment and employers are left without the skilled workers that they need.

In the UK, the British Chambers of Commerce recently complained that three out of four businesses were suffering from a "shortage of digital skills".

The global "ransomware" computer hack last week once again raised concerns about the acute shortage of cyber-security skills in many countries.

There have been plenty of warnings about this - and IBM's general manager for security, Marc van Zadelhoff, has called for a different approach to recruitment.

Filling the skills gap

IBM has an international network of university partnerships for cyber-security projects.

But writing in the Harvard Business Review, Mr Van Zadelhoff said filling the skills gap would also mean re-training people without any experience in tech-related areas.

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image captionStudents will spend a year in Naples, learning digital skills for the app economy

"Why are we limiting security positions to people with four-year degrees in computer science, when we desperately need varied skills across so many different industries?

"Businesses should open themselves up to applicants whose non-traditional backgrounds mean they could bring new ideas to the position and the challenge of improving cyber-security," wrote Mr Van Zadelhoff.

There is also a bigger political dimension to the skills needed for a modern economy - highlighted by the annual Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Skills Outlook, published this month.

The economic think tank's report for 2017 focuses on the polarising impact of globalisation - which has increasingly become a target for protesters on the right and left.

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The OECD analysis argues that whether a country is a winner or loser from globalisation will depend on the level of skills in the workforce.

If countries have well-qualified, skilled populations, they will be the beneficiaries of globalisation, taking advantage of better jobs, improved productivity, widening markets and digital industries.

It identifies South Korea and Poland as examples of countries moving up this value chain - and Estonia, Japan and New Zealand as countries successfully taking advantage of expanding technology sectors.

Jobs disappearing

Among major economies, Germany is seen as being more successful in developing skills than the United States.

But the big concern is that across OECD countries there are 200 million people with poor skills in basic literacy and numeracy, deeply vulnerable to the forces of globalisation.

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image captionThe global cyber-attack highlighted the need for cyber-security skills

These are people who have the reading skills of 10-year-olds - whose job chances are acutely at risk from outsourcing overseas or being replaced by technology.

The OECD report identifies Greece as a country that has failed to respond to this challenge.

But it also warns that the UK, Australia, Ireland and the United States "need to watch out" because the skills in the workforce are no longer "well aligned" with the needs of new technology-driven industries.

While projects such as Apple's academy are picking the fruit from the top of the tree, the OECD is warning about the dangers of ignoring the reality of life in the low-hanging branches.

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's education director, says there is an urgent social and political need to equip people with training, if globalisation is going to avoid social division.

"Don't expect workers to accept losing their jobs through outsourcing or automation, if they don't feel prepared to get or create new ones," says Mr Schleicher.

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