Long-term unemployed workers are to be trained and placed in IT technician jobs under the government's New Deal programme, to be announced within the next few weeks.
The programme, which was pioneered in the US, aims to place hundreds of the UK's unemployed in skilled IT jobs paying £16,000 to £20,000 a year.
The project, backed by IBM, Xerox, Unisys and Cisco, is one of a series of initiatives to be unveiled soon by the government. The aim is to match IT training for the unemployed with the skills demanded by employers.
Recruitment specialist Manpower will be co-ordinating pilot projects in Glasgow, Liverpool and London, which will train about 400 IT technicians before a potential UK-wide roll-out. Successful candidates will be awarded an A+ certificate, which is recognised by employers.
The project aims to provide employers facing recruitment difficulties with a new stream of potential recruits. The E-skills National Training Organisation predicts the UK will need an additional 150,000 to 200,000 skilled IT professionals each year.
"We are not experiencing huge difficulties but clearly, with unemployment falling and more people working, inevitably there are pockets of skills that we are finding difficult to get. The initiative behind this is to make sure there is a good pool of people we can hire," a spokesperson for Xerox said this week.
"We need to show that it does not matter what their background is if people are suitable and have been trained to the criteria," said Ruth Hounslow, policy research manager at Manpower. "This is a huge untapped market."
Manpower will offer candidates - many of whom will be unused to office and work life - training in literacy, numeracy and basic work skills, such as communication and time-keeping, as well as IT training during the 26-week course.
The agency plans to hire the successful candidates and to contract them out to Xerox, IBM and Unisys to service customers' hardware and software. The candidates will continue to be offered training, provided by Cisco, once they start work.
A similar programme was piloted in San Francisco and is being rolled out in New York, Philadelphia and Miami after it showed that long-term unemployed workers could successfully be placed in technician jobs.
Separately, the government plans to announce an extension of the New Deal programme that will offer every unemployed person on the scheme training in basic IT skills using the European Computer Driving Licence and similar programmes.
This comes on top of plans announced by chancellor Gordon Brown in the recent Budget to use the New Deal to place 5,000 unemployed people into ICT jobs over the next three years.
Employers taking part in the scheme, dubbed Ambition IT, are expected to include EDS, FI Group, IBM and Compaq. It will offer on-the-job training to supplement classroom teaching.
John O Sullivan, director of the Alliance for Information Systems Skills, said, "The whole thing depends on very careful selection and training. Given that, there would be a good chance of making it work."