The need for IT skills has forced companies to recruit school-leavers - and they've not been disappointed. Chris Johnston reports
The serious shortage of computer skills is allowing school-leavers to compete with university graduates in the race for jobs with big companies.
A number of firms have recently started recruiting school-leavers with A-levels alongside their traditional graduate intake.
Rebecca George, human resources partner with IBM Global Services, says about 100 school-leavers are already working for the company, with that number rising significantly during the holidays.
She says the school-leavers start off doing relatively simple work in product and customer support and network services while being "trained up to do something more interesting and longer-lasting". Training can last from two months to two years.
School-leavers are expected to have at least three A-levels, says Ms George, but not necessarily in maths and physics. "There are other subjects that lend themselves extremely well to computer programming, such as music and certain languages."
Areas such as website design demand innovation and creativity and Ms George says a school-leaver can be just as useful as someone with 10 years' training.
Some school-leavers will gain qualifications by being put through the modern apprenticeship scheme, in which they are trained for two or three years and qualify for a level 3 national vocational qualification.
Gordon Greaves, IT National Training Organisation director, says the recruitment of school-leavers is helping to address the industry's pressing recruitment needs. "These people would not, traditionally, have been offered jobs in the industry because they are deemed to be too young."
Another IT company, EDS, recruited 70 modern apprentices in 1997 and has had two more intakes since then. There are now 165 young people doing software development and support work.
Norwich Union also has an IT modern apprenticeship programme, while the Royal Bank of Scotland is supplementing its graduate intake with 20 school-leavers.
The trainee analyst programmers - whom Mr Hawkins says are not inferior to their degree-holding colleagues - started in the bank's technology department in late September.
The bank made the move after realising it would need more analyst programmers to cope with the European single currency and the millennium bug problem.
More than half a million IT jobs are vacant in western Europe - a figure that is set to rise to 1.6 million by 2002. School-leavers could increasingly be called upon to fill the gaps.