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IT diploma hoped to quell skills shortage

Rebecca Thomson

An IT diploma was launched last week with the support of IT employers, who are hopeful it will help reduce the UK skills shortage.

The new qualification, for 14- to 19-year-olds, was developed in conjunction with employers and higher education - a fact which, employers say, will help to "transform" the image of IT for young people.

The number of students choosing to study IT A-levels and degrees has been falling for the last few years and IT departments are increasingly turning to foreign graduates or outsourcing deals to fill the gaps.

But the importance of a strong home-grown IT workforce is paramount, they say, if the UK is to remain competitive in the coming decades.

Employers including LogicaCMG, Microsoft, Vodaphone and Cisco said they were hopeful the diploma will attract young talent, and ensure they are equipped with the right skills.

Pat Wallace, business development manager at Cisco, said "Traditionally young people have thought of IT as a back-office thing. Our challenge is to get more people - and a greater range - involved.

"I am confident the diploma is going to create more of a buzz around the subject."

Andy Hill, head of executive resourcing and development at Vodaphone, described the course as a "big leap forward" and emphasised the importance of business skills.

He said, "We are not a typical IT organisation, so we are looking for broader project management skills. We wanted to emphasise the generic learning, and I feel we have got a good mix in the diploma."

Steve Beswick, director of education at Microsoft, agreed, and added the business context of the new diploma will prompt more people to study IT.

"I believe the diploma will deliver the skills we want," he said. "It is a combination of good quality skills and education, and softer skills. Sometimes that is quite hard to find.

"It will attract more people into the industry because it is broader. It is not just the technical side, it is the business context. It could be a transformation. Kids use technology so much at home and hopefully this will transform this into learning at college. IT is embedded in everything and I am hoping it will engage them. The economy in 2020 will be knowledge based, and a fundamental part of this is IT skills."

Gary Argent, UK graduate recruitment manager at LogicaCMG, hopes the diploma will tackle the dwindling number of younger candidates.

"When I first started four years ago it was easy to recruit - we were filling graduate spaces twice over. There is now more competition, and more employers looking for IT graduates - and it is only going to get harder.

"I think the diploma will do two things - it will ensure people are studying the right skills, and hopefully it will encourage students to study IT when they see we are all backing it."

Ed Balls, secretary of state for schools, said at Tower Hamlets College last week, "If the demand comes from employers, then the students will want to study it. I think it will change attitudes to IT."





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