Italy, India sign IT cooperation agreement

Italy is looking to India to help solve its skill shortage in the information technology sector and has signed a cooperation agreement which should make it easier for Italian companies to hire IT professionals from the subcontinent, an Italian industry ministry official said Friday.

A memorandum of understanding signed in Florence Thursday by Stefano Passigli, undersecretary at the Italian Industry Ministry, and Vinay Kholi, the secretary of India's Ministry of Information Technology, cites "facilitating the development, interaction and exchange of IT talent between Italy and India," as one of its priorities.

The agreement provides for the creation of an Italy-India working group on information technology and services, which is due to be set up next week to begin defining the timing and methodology of the cooperation program, Antonello Busetto, the head of the technology secretariat at Italy's Industry Ministry, said in a telephone interview.

"The first three initiatives have already been decided on. They involve the creation of two distance-learning programs, one to teach Italian to Indian technicians and the other to train Italian technicians in specific information communication technology (ICT) sectors," Busetto said. The third program involves the organization of road shows for interested Italian companies in India and for Indian companies in Italy, he said.

Italy currently has a shortage of 120,000 IT professionals, a figure that is expected to rise to 200,000 by the end of the year, the Milan business daily Il Sole 24 Ore reported Friday. The Italian government has passed a decree granting work visas to 3,000 high technology specialists from outside the European Union to be taken up during the course of the year 2001, Busetto said.

The government still has to define the skill profiles it is looking for and will then negotiate with the Indians on their quota of the total, the industry ministry official said. "The Indians said they didn't have an enormous manpower surplus. They are already exporting their know-how to the entire world," he said. "The skill shortage in this sector has developed here over the past two years. The demand from Italian companies has grown significantly."

Overall immigration quotas have to be agreed upon with the European Union, but this is the first time Italy has reserved 3,000 visas for high technology professionals, Busetto said. The import of skilled professionals is not the only way of tackling the skill shortage, he said. "We intend to adopt a mixed approach, including the creation of joint ventures linked to specific projects. We hope our relations with India will help us to reduce the skill gap very significantly over the next four to five years."

The agreement identifies the setting up of IT talent incubators in Italy and India, tapping institutes of higher learning in both countries, harmonization and cross-certification of digital signatures, increasing bilateral Internet connectivity, and the joint development of interactive broadband multimedia content, information security and e-government as areas for cooperation.

Busetto acknowledged that Indian professionals were more likely to be attracted by job opportunities in English-speaking countries, but said the Indians were interested in Italy's centers of technological excellence, particularly in microprocessors and fiberoptics. "We all have to learn languages if we want to be able to interact with others," he said.

The lack of skilled IT professionals is currently costing Italy 17 trillion lire (US$7.9 billion) a year in lost market share, Il Sole 24 Ore reported Friday. The country's ICT sector grew by 12.8 percent last year to 108 trillion lire and now accounts for 5.5 percent of Italy's gross domestic product (GDP), the paper said. India's software exports to Italy over the last two years were worth less than $14 million, or 0.4 percent of the total Indian exports for the sector, it said. That compares with $2.2 billion of software exports to the United States over the same period, $413 million to the United Kingdom and $130 million to Germany, Il Sole said.

The Italian industry ministry can be contacted in Rome on tel. +3906 4788 7943 or on the Web at http://www.minindustria.it.

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