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The 'geek squad' has come to town

Formerly unemployed workers are taking Europe and the IT world by storm. Kay Smith reports. A new training venture in Edinburgh, modelled on an American initiative known as the "geek squad", is boosting the jobs chances of unemployed people going digital straight from the dole.

Edinburgh Community Technology Academy has produced its first tranche of IT support workers ready for the workplace, delivering the digital technology skills prized by leading-edge employers.

These workers are so much in demand that, over the past 18 months, they have become the focus of a European-wide alliance of employers, training providers and governments, which aims to fill a national skills gap by training up to 20 million workers by 2010.

About 100,000 Scots are included in this target, to be trained through the Scottish Industry Alliance for Jobs, which is in the process of spreading its tentacles through learning centres around the country, many of them branded by learndirect Scotland.

Rob Doyle, the alliance's project manager in Scotland, said: "We are building on an existing infrastructure of learning organisations to improve their capacity to deliver meaningful IT training and certification and, in the process, enhance the employability of young people, women returners, the disabled or the older worker."

In Edinburgh, this goal has been translated into a pound;300,000 package by the Chamber of Commerce through a partnership including Microsoft, Cisco, staffing agency Ranstad, and a range of public sector interests. Roger Horam, business and learning manager for the chamber, said: "We're offering a springboard from unemployment, not into low-paid work but straight into reasonably well-paid jobs at IT technician level. It's highly motivating for trainees."

Those - many on benefits - undergo a 15-week course delivered over two to three days a week. Courses are in the process of being benchmarked against the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework, which help give credit towards higher education for previous experience and learning. The technician's course, for example, is placed at level 7, the equivalent of an HNC, while Cisco's Network Associates course equates to level 8 or an HND.

Colin Jubb, 49, is one of the academy graduates who can look forward to coming off disability benefit and approaching the jobs market with a specialist MOS certificate on his CV. He had a degree in electrical engineering and some software application experience, but adds: " The Microsoft qualification has given me up-to-date training. It's at the cutting edge and what employers want."

Lee Cooper, 28, has completed the desktop support technician's course and has plans to complete a course in web design, provided through the Edinburgh company Net Resources. "I'm aiming to get into university as a mature student to study IT," he says.

Peter George of Net Resources said: "We're delivering these through team- working in real-life problem-solving situations."

In Glasgow, similar IT manufacturer-devised courses are being delivered through a partnership of Glasgow South West Regeneration Agency (formerly Govan Initiative), Cisco and Glasgow City Council, under the umbrella of the Hill's Trust Academy.

Alison Sinclair, chief executive of the regeneration agency, commented: "The days of providing courses in the hope that people will find jobs afterwards are gone. We cannot afford to do this if we are serious about creating a fair and equal society with opportunity for all."

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