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Report calls for IT centres of excellence;Further Education

COLLEGES should set up technological centres of excellence and the funding of further education should be altered so that modular accreditation of courses is possible, a new report recommends.

Skills for the Information Age, the final report of the Information Technology, Communications and Electronics (ITCE) Skills Strategy Group, says such centres would help colleges provide the affordable, high-quality and flexible training that firms want. Companies should be encouraged to build close links with the centres, it says.

It points out that FE colleges face "unique problems", as industry believes that they have out-of-date equipment, little flexibility and lack specialised skills. "There is a market for FE colleges in meeting the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises, who cannot always afford private training."

However, funding arrangements can make it difficult for colleges to respond to local demand. Altering the funding methodology is necessary because employers want courses that lead to full qualifications over time. "We hope the new Learning and Skills Council will take account of these concerns when developing a new funding system," the report states.

Although only a minority of entrants to the Information Technology, Communications and Electronics sectors, which employ some 872,000 people, come directly from full-time education, the group says universities and colleges still had an important contribution to make in providing technically skilled workers.

The report calls for national collaboration between employers and higher and further education institutions and the creation of a "council for ITCE skills".

The council would comprise the five relevant national training organisations and establish a

system to collect information on skill shortages. It would also develop a national classification system for skills and career progression.

The report also calls for a high-profile nationwide campaign, including setting up a careers website, to improve the poor image of jobs - one newspaper poll rated computer jobs as even less "sexy" than being funeral directors. Strategies to entice more women into these sectors (the workforce is two thirds male) need to be found.

"We do not expect the numbers of people with technical skills coming through the higher and further education routes to increase sufficiently over the next few years to meet the growth in demand unless more young people - particularly young women - can be encouraged to take up ITCE courses."

Michael Wills, the learning and technology minister, said the report was part of the drive to deliver a crucial skills strategy in these sectors. "Only half of graduates doing IT-related subjects

take up jobs in the industry. Better careers information will help in our quest for a world-class digital economy."

Skills for the Information Age: Free copies from 0845 602 2260.

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