Firms push business focus in alternative to IT A-level

Leading employers are driving the development of a business-focused alternative to A-levels, in a radical attempt to reverse the decline in the number of young people studying computing in schools and colleges.

Leading employers are driving the development of a business-focused alternative to A-levels, in a radical attempt to reverse the decline in the number of young people studying computing in schools and colleges.

The diploma in IT and business aims to equip a new generation of students with the technical, business and communications skills needed by IT employers when it is introduced in schools from 2008.

Businesses including Ford, Astra­Zeneca, John Lewis, BT and Vodafone are working with schools and examination boards to develop the qualification, which will be offered as an alternative to GCSE and A-level computing.

The move follows concerns from businesses that the existing IT syllabus fails to equip students with the skills needed by IT departments and puts young people off IT as a career.

"People are coming out quite technical, but they do not seem to be able to interpret how technology can make a difference. Things like project management, communication and putting technology into a business context are missing," said Andy Hill, head of resourcing at Vodafone.

The diploma course will teach students how businesses work, communication skills, team working and project management, in addition to technical skills.

Students will have the option of gaining industry-recognised IT certificates, such as Microsoft certified systems engineer, or broadening their studies by also taking an A-level in a foreign language or a science.

"Employers are keen to broaden people out, so if you are going to work in financial services, you have an understanding of money markets and IT. If you are going to work for AstraZeneca, you might have chemistry and IT," said Karen Price, chief executive of sector skills council E-Skills UK.

Employers plan to support the diploma, which will be designed to keep pace with changing technology demands, by providing schools with visiting lecturers, offering pupils work experience, and running training days for teachers.

Tracey Upton, HR director of Southampton Unitary Authority, said, "I would look to get a group of employers to take people into employment during vacations and give them proper work experience. We also want to work with education bodies to encourage them to put the diploma on their curriculum."

One of the central aims of the diploma is to increase the number of young people studying computing at school, following a 13.9% drop in the numbers studying A-level computing over the past 12 months.

"Without the diploma there will continue to be a year-on-year drop in young people wanting to study IT. We would have no pool of young people coming into IT," said Price.

Read article: Awards show business value of work placements


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