A GROUND-BREAKING agreement will allow school-leavers to walk into highly-paid jobs as "electronic plumbers" while helping to alleviate the serious information technology skills shortage.
Under the scheme, A-level students at selected secondary schools in England will be able to gain a qualification allowing them to win jobs in the rapidly growing Internet networking sector, installing and maintaining IT networks.
The schools, all part of theTechnology Colleges Trust (TCT), will offer the curriculum of the Cisco Networking Academy leading to an industry-recognised award for their pupils.
California-based firm Cisco is a leading provider of products for the Internet, but has found a shortage of workers with the necessary skills. So last year it launched its "academy" programme in Europe.
The firm estimates Britain alone faces a shortfall of 81,000 workers with networking skills by 2002, and this country is comparatively well placed. The figure for Europe will be 600,000.
A handful of other high-tech firms such as Microsoft and Novell run similar programmes in the United States, but none is as ambitious. Some IT companies in Britain train people through the Modern Apprenticeship scheme, but numbers are small.
Some major firms such as the Royal Bank of Scotland and IBM are already taking on computer-literate school-leavers to supplement their IT departments.
Cisco already has more than 1,150 academies in 29 countries.
Under the scheme, teachers from participating schools will be trained and supported by trainers from regional academies, mostly further education colleges but also some schools, who in turn have attended a Cisco Academy Training Centre at a university.
The TCT and Cisco plan to establish at least eight regional academies this year and 30 by 2001. Each regional academy will serve up to 10 schools, or local academies.
Cisco will spend pound;1 million on the venture over the next two years.
The Greensward School in Hockley, Essex, is the first to join the programme and is the first regional academy.
The school is about to start training local instructors and students will begin the academy programme in September.
Hugh Christie technology college in Tonbridge, Kent, and Jeff Joseph Sale Moor TC in Trafford will also become regional academies.
For more information, see the Cisco website onwww.cisco.comeduemea or telephone Sandra Golightly at Cisco on 0181 756 8000.