Ministers ask bosses to train unemployed as IT specialists

The Government plans to use its controversial New Deal programme, which helps unemployed people back to work, to train a supply of technicians to fill crucial IT vacancies

Ministers have asked leading employers to develop a national training programme to equip unemployed people with critical IT skills.

The Government plans to use its controversial New Deal programme, which helps unemployed people back to work, to train a supply of technicians to fill crucial IT vacancies.

Ministers told a select group of employers that they were keen to rework the programme to make it more responsive to employers' needs, at a closed-door meeting in Downing Street this month.

"We believe that there is an important opportunity to meet the workforce development needs of the IT sector while helping people on welfare to become economically self-sufficient," ministers Stephen Timms and Tessa Jowell said in a letter to the group.

The ministers have asked a taskforce of 20 leading IT employers to report back with proposals for the scheme by September. The taskforce, led by Hilary Cropper, chairwoman of FI group, includes Unisys, Microsoft, IBM, BT.

The group will look at ways to make New Deal demand-led, so that the training offered to the unemployed will closely reflect the changing IT skills that employers are looking for.

The programme is likely to be modelled on schemes in the US, which have successfully trained people from deprived backgrounds and helped them into IT jobs.

Although the scheme has been welcomed by employers, some believe it should focus more on offering training to older workers and women than on training the young unemployed.

"Unemployed people over 45 have good business skills and could be trained to become good IT project managers," said one employer who attended the meeting.

The Government plans to fund three or four test projects to pilot the scheme before rolling out nationwide.

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