A national IT skills action plan backed by employers, the government and universities aims to reduce the productivity gap between the UK and its European rivals within three years.
The programme, due to be launched today (14 June) by education secretary Ruth Kelly, aims to create a new generation of IT professionals that have the business and communications skills employers say are essential for competing internationally.
The publication of the action plan is the culmination of a year of work by employers, academics and government, as reported over the year by Computer Weekly, to win financial resources and backing for a series of national programmes to plug gaps in the way IT professionals are trained.
"A long-term strategy to ensure broader, deeper and ever-evolving IT skills across all sectors of the economy is fundamental to our productivity and competitiveness," said Kelly.
Employers and the government are backing a programme of 12 initiatives, known as the sector skills agreement for IT, which aim to transform the way IT is taught in schools and universities, and to ensure the brightest candidates are attracted into the profession.
British Airways, Ford, IBM, Norwich Union, Lehman Brothers, Cisco and EDS are among the companies to have offered time and resources to the plan, co-ordinated by sector skills council E-Skills UK. The government will provide matching funding.
British Airways chief information officer Paul Corby said the agreement would help employers address gaps in the skills of their workforce.
"We are well aware of the skills shortages in the industry. Employers of IT professionals spend more than any other sector on training, equating to a staggering £2.4bn over three years. The sector skills agreement for IT will ensure investment in IT skills development delivers maximum benefit," he said.
Astra Zeneca CIO Paul Burfitt said, "This is a long-needed action plan, offering targeted training routes to students and employees at all levels. It is designed to fulfil employer needs."
The organisations backing the agreement have agreed to provide staff time, resources and funding to develop IT qualifications for universities and schools, simplify the existing array of IT qualifications, and create an e-business academy.
BT, Ford, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley and Norwich Union are backing the creation of employer-led IT degrees for universities that will devote equal time to technology, business studies and communication skills.
The universities of Greenwich, Reading, Central England and Northumbria will offer the first of the new style courses, taking on 1,000 students by the end of the year. Courses will be rolled out to 18 further universities by 2008.
An IT diploma for students aged between 14 and 19, also focusing on business and IT skills, will be rolled out to schools within three years to plug what employers see as a significant gap in education.
A third element of the programme will bring employers together to develop careers literature for schools and universities to encourage the brightest students to enter the IT profession.
BA, Ford, Norwich Union, Accenture and KPMG are supporting plans to create an employer-backed network of computer clubs for girls in 3,600 schools to encourage more young women to consider careers in IT.
BT, Orange, and Marconi are backing the creation of an e-business academy, which will offer IT professionals accelerated learning in business and technical skills. The academy will also train business managers in IT.
There will be help for small firms in training their IT staff, and programmes to help schools and colleges teach pupils how to use IT. An initiative to help employers identify gaps in the IT skills of their workforce is also planned.
E-Skills UK chief executive Karen Price said, "Businesses and the entire UK economy are dependent on having a workforce with the right IT skills. The sector skills agreement for IT is the first time employers, industry, the education sector and government have joined together on this scale to collaborate on UK IT skills improvement," she said.
Development of IT master of business degree and IT diplomas
Ford, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, Norwich Union, BT.
Development of e-skills passport to help organisations measure the skills of workers that need to use IT, and qualification for user skills
Sainsbury, Lloyds TSB, Inland Revenue, Ministry of Defence, Accenture.
Simplification of IT qualifications
MoD, Department for Education and Skills, RAF, EDS, BT, Orange, 02.
Providing volunteers to help computer clubs for girls
British Airways, Ford, Norwich Union.
Providing advisory support for computer clubs for girls
Accenture, Ford, BT, KPMG.