Employers hope that an IT diploma for teenagers, showcased last week, will encourage more young people to enter the IT profession.
The qualification, aimed at students aged 14 to 19, was developed with employers and higher education authorities - a fact that employers say will help to "transform" the image of IT for young people.
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The number of students choosing to study IT at A-level and degree level has been falling for the past few years, and IT departments are increasingly turning to foreign graduates or outsourcing deals to fill the gaps.
Need for home-grown IT skills
Employers say a strong, home-grown IT workforce will be crucial if the UK is to remain competitive in the coming decades.
IT suppliers including LogicaCMG, Microsoft, Vodafone and Cisco said that they are hopeful the new IT diploma will attract young talent, and ensure they are equipped with the skills that the modern workplace demands.
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."
Pat Wallace, business development manager at network supplier 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 of people - involved. I am confident that the diploma is going to create more of a buzz around the subject."
Andy Hill, head of executive resourcing and development at mobile network operator Vodafone, described the course as a "big leap forward".
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."
Developing business skills
Steve Beswick, director of education at Microsoft, said the business context of the diploma will prompt more people to study IT.
"I believe the diploma will deliver the skills we want. It is a combination of good quality skills and education as well as softer skills. Sometimes that is quite hard to find," he said.
"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 the diploma will transform this into learning at college. The economy in 2020 will be knowledge based, and a fundamental part of this is IT skills."
Addressing the skills shortage
Gary Argent, UK graduate recruitment manager at IT services company 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."
it skills diploma
● The diploma in IT is aimed at students aged 14 to 19
● It will be available from September 2008
● There are three levels of qualification available: foundation, higher and advanced
● An advanced diploma will be equivalent to three A-levels
● Employers, education experts and government have worked with sector skills council E-Skills UK to develop the course
Topics on the course include:
● The impact of technology on the organisation of companies
● Creating business cases
● Designing, developing and testing technology systems
● Managing small-scale live technology systems
● Identifying key factors in the success or failure of projects
● Developing effective interpersonal skills