Greece is a country with a population of around 11 million. Roughly 5 million live in the Athens metropolitan area where 70% of Greek economic activity takes place here.

For the past 10 years, the country has been in a tremendous crisis. Many people believe that the financial issues of Greece have yet been solved and that the major characteristic of the crisis continues to be unemployment. Greece has a very well-educated population. Unemployment is quite prevalent among the younger Greeks, and people with great qualifications, courage and sense of entrepreneurship must work harder than ever to create a new spectrum of jobs with exceptional skills and innovation.

The European Interest has discussed this enormous problem with Mr. Byron Nicolaides, President of CEPIS and Founder, President and CEO of PeopleCert.

Mr. Nicolaides said that “because of the shortage of ICT professionals in Europe and in Greece we must invest heavily in our younger population, educating them to become programmers and ICT professionals. The question is whether we can create half a million ICT jobs in Greece within the next 10 years! We commissioned a feasibility study with the Athens Economic University, ALBA and HePIS (the Hellenic Professional Informatics Society) to investigate this and the result was that, yes, it is possible; we can create many jobs in Greece within 10 years. We just need to create the opportunity from the existing pool of unemployed people and the co-operation of both government and the private sector”

“To accomplish this”, says Mr. Byron Nicolaides, “we shouldn’t view Greece as a revenue centre, but as a cost centre. If, for example, I own a UK-based company and I want to create a cost centre in Greece, it is very feasible. Greece offers access to highly-educated workforce – equally sophisticated but less expensive when compared to other developed countries, such as the UK or the USA. Secondly, the great thing about ICT is, you don’t have to be in a physical office – you can work remotely. You can work from anywhere in Greece, including the islands, for any company anywhere in the world – right from your home. Employers, foreign and local, are committed to the ‘bootcamp-model’ vocational training. We have already reskilled as Software Developers many candidates and “matched them” with top employers as we are the Mastermind behind the Alliance of Digital Employability (AFDEmp) and its Coding Bootcamp program. These weren’t people with technical backgrounds – they were unemployed, mainly STEM candidates, starting from scratch. If they graduate successfully – after completing an extremely intensive program of 500 training hours in 12 weeks (which means at least 8 hours per day), 3 exams, and a number of hand-on projects (e.g. web-based apps), we help them to join top companies as entry-level developers. This is a life-changer. I am personally extremely happy that our vision to create ICT professionals in-house through vocational training has become a reality. We are changing permanently their future. Under the AFDEmp umbrella we have successfully finished two such pilot “Bootcamps” and we are currently busy with the third one, where we have over 100 people being trained as Software Developers. When this pilot finishes, we will focus on expansion and impact on a large scale. Classes take place in PeopleCert Innovation and Excellence Center and additional activities are already scheduled in the following months. Demand has grown and continuously more companies approach us to find new talent and support AFDEmp initiative. This proves that we have made a huge step towards establishing a new educational model.

It’s great to have a dream, especially for young people. But in this very complicated Greek environment, is it truly possible to create 500.000 ICT jobs for the next decade?

Mr. Byron Nicolaides sees the new reality with a positive eye, saying: “Yes, I strongly think that it is possible. Not only for men but for women too. What I would also like to see is more females in the ICT sector. Currently only about 10-12% of the workforce is female. At the same time, I would like to see a decrease in the age factor. Do you know that the average age in Europe for an ICT professional is 50 years old? Why? Because it isn’t considered a very interesting or “attractive” job. We want to address this and lure younger people towards the industry. We want to change this wrong perception. Age and gender is very important for us. At the end of the day, in the future, 50% of the jobs, in general, will be ICT related. Therefore, the population and workforce must adapt.

A question for Greece is how it can increase investments in R&D as percentage of GDP – today is just 1% –  and secondly what it could do from a strategic point to connect the university and the workplace better and more effectively.

“In Greece”, says Mr. Byron Nicolaides, “the majority of R&D investment is related directly or indirectly to the public sector. R&D by the private sector is negligible. The real push will only happen through government support, through budget adjustment. However, given the current ensuing crisis, we don’t see it coming. To that end, the private sector should act independently; focus on innovation, re-creation and out of the box thinking. This is directly linked to R&D investments and the only way I see this happening is if Greek companies look beyond Greece and even beyond Europe. They must become globally-minded and globally-relevant; this can only happen through technology.