The sector skills agreement, announced by the Department for Education and Skills, could open up the way for millions of pounds of government money to be channelled into training youngsters in colleges and universities in the IT and business skills employers most need.
The agreements could also lead to government funding to help employers train unqualified staff or modern apprentices in programming and other IT skills, said Karen Price, chairman of public private sector partnership E-Skills UK.
"It will mean that employers will have direct influence over funding from public sector agencies. The learning and skills council has a budget of £9bn, there is £6bn for further education colleges and more than £3bn for adult skills in the workplace," she said.
In return, employers will be expected to commit to investing in training their own workforce, to collaborate with colleges and universities in developing courses and to assist in forecasting future skills needs.
E-Skills UK is one of four private sector skills councils chosen by the government to pilot sector skills agreements before they are extended into the rest of business.
One of E-Skills UK's priorities is to reform the government-funded modern apprenticeship scheme to make it relevant to companies employing IT professionals.
Modern apprenticeships have been successful in other areas of the economy, but have failed to take off widely among IT employers, despite a £7,000 government subsidy for each trainee.
"We would like to see a modern apprenticeship scheme designed by employers that will benefit employers," said Price.
Employers are expected to press for the redesigned modern apprenticeship to include supplier-based qualifications such as Microsoft's certified system engineer, rather than the national vocational qualification which underpins the existing programme.
"NVQs are quite difficult to implement in the IT sector, where there is a highly mobile workforce. It is difficult to assess IT professionals on the job," said Price.
E-Skills UK is planning a series of regional web-based exchanges to link employers to colleges and universities offering IT courses in their region, once the agreement gets underway.
The exchanges will make it easier for employers to benefit from training subsidies held by the regional development agencies and other local agencies, said Price.
The agreement could also open up the way for colleges to offer subsidised evening courses covering the IT skills needed by employers in their region.
Skills minister Ivan Lewis said the sector skills agreements would put employers' needs centre stage and give them a powerful voice in how public money on skills is spent. "The agreements will enable sector skills councils to work with government to develop world-class learning provision, meet business needs and give individuals the right skills for their jobs," he said.
This was first published in February 2004