Scarce digital resources to court Big Tech

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If Cyprus wants to persuade big tech companies to relocate in the wake of the discredited passport scheme, it needs to invest in skilled labour to cater to these firms’ needs.

Stakeholders in promoting Cyprus abroad boast their efforts to convince big tech and fintech companies to move their headquarters to the island have succeeded, but there is a snag.

In comments to the Financial Mirror, George Campanellas, the Chief Executive Officer of Invest Cyprus, said the only thing that could hold back a company from relocating to Cyprus is the lack of human resources.

“Cyprus has been getting noticed more as an alternative for high-tech companies looking to relocate to a safer environment or looking for an EU base in the aftermath of Brexit.

“Cyprus has been attracting many companies which are under the radar, but recently we have convinced more than a handful of large high-tech companies, including gaming companies, to hop on board,” said Campanellas.

The head of the government’s investment promotion referred to Limassol-based Nexters Global Ltd., a high tech company obtained by Kismet Acquisition One Corp valued at $1.9 bln.

“That transaction has made a lot of noise abroad, raising even more interest in Cyprus.”

Nexters Global, the game developer behind Hero Wars and Throne Rush, is going public through a deal with a blank-check company started by former MegaFon PJSC head Ivan Tavrin.

Kismet Capital Group will invest an additional $50 mln in the deal with the company finding its way to the Nasdaq stock exchange, joining a wide variety of information and technology companies.

The latest development sends a clear message that Cyprus can be a good base for these firms to upscale their business.

“We are pushing ahead with campaigns to attract more high-tech companies as Cyprus has a lot to offer, and it is the best thing Cyprus can invest in.

“No big investments are required to attract these companies, just a well-organised framework and supply of skilled manpower,” Campanellas said.

He argued that Cyprus society needs to get with the program’ and invest in training young people in the art of computer programming and other high-tech related professions.

“This means universities, the state school system to encourage people to not only to pick up digital skills but go a step further in acquiring an education in the field.”

Skills gap

Invest Cyprus is working very closely with the Interior Ministry to allow trained third-country nationals to come to work for these companies in an attempt to close the skilled labour gap.

Antonis Polemitis, University of Nicosia CEO, a professor in Digital Currency, said Cyprus universities had acknowledged the need to increase the number of skilled people who can work in high-tech firms.

“Quite rightfully, stakeholders are concerned about the lack of skilled labour for the sector.

“This is something we are working on, upgrading our programs, but most importantly working with authorities to get the message across to students and their families that the future is digital,” said Polemitis.

He argued that students’ families need to be convinced to put their children on a path leading to a career related to technology, steering away from dreams of secure jobs in the civil service.

“There will all ways be a need for computer programmers, no matter what.

“Even more so with the arrival of high-tech companies to the island. No matter how many graduates in computer science we produce, they will not be enough to cover demand in the coming years.

“Employers, the state, universities and other stakeholders need to pull together to get the message across that the future is here and it is digital,” said Polemitis.

Frederick University’s Computer Science professor Chrysostomos Chrysostomou said students graduating from Cyprus universities are equipped for the task. Still, their number may not suffice to cover the needs of the growing local high-tech industry.

“Cyprus universities, having upgraded their programs for some years now, offer artificial intelligence, software development, graphics, and machine learning courses.

“What we need to do is boost the number of students opting to study in these fields,” said Chrysostomou.

He argued the arrival of big tech companies had rekindled Cypriot students’ interest to study computer science.

Chrysostomou argued that a lot needs to be done in schools to increase understanding of technology and encourage careers in computer science or information technology.

“Cyprus’ education system offers students the basic knowledge of computers, but naturally there is a lot of room for improvement.

“Students are interested; we see that in many contests organised by the Education Ministry when they grab the opportunity to build projects using technology.”

He believes the Education Ministry should introduce children to technology and computers through lessons at an earlier age.

“We need to get them young, starting from the elementary.

“We need to convince the younger generations they will be gaining an advantage by choosing to upgrade their digital skills and eventually find their way into the high-tech industry.”