Narrowing the digital divide

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A non-profit organisation of IT professionals wants to improve computer literacy to bridge the lack of talent, posing the biggest challenge the country faces on its path to becoming a regional tech hub.

The Cyprus Computer Society made up of IT professionals and computer scientists, created in 1984, has been working to close the digital gap by following a “get them while they’re young” policy, offering free lessons to school students.

It promotes key issues in the industry, especially digital literacy, professional skills, education, training, and research.

In comments to the Financial Mirror, George Christodoulou, a member of the CCS board, said that one of the greatest challenges Cyprus is facing on its path to becoming a high-tech hub is the lack of IT professionals.

“Recently, the government admitted the industry lacks some 3,500 IT professionals.

“The truth of the matter is that this could well be an understatement.

“We know from experience that when a company posts an IT vacancy, it gets, at best, a couple of CVs coming in,” said Christodoulou.

He believes the lack of IT professionals hinders Cyprus from drawing big tech firms to relocate or set up offices.

“We have seen tens of high tech, fintech and forex firms head to our island in recent years.

“All of them are in need of IT talent.

“Given that Cyprus has a serious shortage, firms prefer to relocate their staff from other countries, or hire people from third countries.”

He noted that all companies opening up shop in Cyprus need IT talent, regardless of whether they are active in the field.

“All of these companies’ business is digitalised in one way or another, requiring IT professionals who can maintain their operations.

Education reform

He said comprehensive upskilling and reskilling programmes were needed to address the shortage.

Christodoulou argued the education system needed reform, but there was an urgent need to change the mentality.

“We strongly believe that Cyprus’ future is closely tied with the technology sector, which is why we are running several programs to enhance computer literacy and soft skills among younger ages.”

We want to get them young.

“We want to poke their curiosity and get them involved with computers and programming while enhancing their problem-solving skills.”

Christodoulou said there is great interest from school students, while parents are more willing to enrol their children in courses such as robotics.

CCS is the organiser of the European Computer Driving License exams in Cyprus, offered to students free.

The ECDL is an internationally recognised standard of competence, a widely acceptable certificate that asserts the holder has the knowledge and skills needed to use the most common computer applications efficiently and productively in the workplace and at home.

ECDL courses and exams are taken through the CCS’s network of Test Centres across Cyprus.

Christodoulou pointed out the CCS is particularly proud of the increasing number of success stories of Cyprus school students taking part in international contests such as the Balkan Olympiad in Informatics (BOI), the European Junior Olympiad in Informatics (EJOI), and the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI).

Every year, Cyprus youth are bringing in an increasing number of medals from these international contests and in Robotics competitions such as the annual ‘Robotex International’ in Estonia.

Christodoulou said CCS is reaching out to children from elementary to high school and is trying to build soft skills by offering courses in robotics.

The society is not limiting its actions to children; it has partnered with IT firms to organise an “ethical hacking competition”, the Cyprus Cyber Security Challenge (CCSC).

Through the CCSC, the Cyprus National Team is selected and trained to compete at the European Cyber Security Challenge (ECSC), which takes place annually.

In cooperation with information security specialists from both academia and the industry, it prepares the Cyprus national team for ECSC.

These mentors set up and run the national challenges, disseminate the activities and train, and prepare the cyber talents for the ECSC.

Some 15 participants who meet the criteria of the European Cyber Security Competition (Cypriot nationals between 14-25) attend training seminars and participate in competitions aimed at establishing the 10-member Cypriot National Team (5 persons 14- 20 and 5 persons aged 21-25 years).

The National Team competes among 27 other countries in the competition to be held in Vienna on 13-16 September.

“An ethical hacker is an IT specialist hired by companies and authorities to find any possible holes in their cyber security networks.

“At the competitions, ‘hackers’ are given a target with instructions to locate its weaknesses and bring it down,” explained Christodoulou.

No female geeks

“Just by looking at the IT industry today, it’s easy to see that there are almost no women, as not many female students choose to study computer sciences.

“We strive to change that with campaigns to get more women involved in the sector.”

The CCS also runs a free program funded by the EU called MigraCode, which aims to enhance soft skills and computer literacy among the migrant community.

The project aims to enable the exchange of good-case practices and promote solidarity through voluntary actions and awareness events.

It focuses on vocational training, education, employment, and social inclusion, using technological tools and innovative approaches.