GIVING homeless people computer training might seem like putting the cart before the horse. But an alliance of training and employment agencies for London's homeless says these skills could help put a roof over their heads.
Off the Streets and Into Work will help 550 people improve their information technology skills in the next 10 months in a partnership with Happy Computers.
Chris Robinson, director of OSW, said about 200 will attend courses at the company's Aldgate East training centre, while others will be tutored by Happy Computers' staff in hostels and day centres. "This is a very exciting programme that will change the lives of hundreds of homeless people in London," he said.
In the past four years OSW has helped 1,000 homeless people to find work and put another 1,200 into vocational skills training or further education courses.
The programme is one element of UK Online Computer Training, a pound;25 million initiative aimed at unemployed people. About 400 venues, including many colleges, will offer tasters and courses such as the European Computer Driving Licence or national vocational qualifications.
The courses, worth around pound;400 each, will ensure job-seekers can use a word-processor, allowing them to write applications and a CV, use the Internet - a growing source of job advetisements - and send e-mail. Anyone receiving the unemployment benefit will be eligible to attend for free.
One centre offering courses is the Old Miners' Welfare in Nottinghamshire, which helps former miners to find new jobs and use new technology. The centre has won a BT Community Technology Award for its efforts.
A Department for Education and Employment study earlier this year found that 60 per cent of job-seekers have had no computer training and only 21 per cent can offer a prospective employer an IT qualification.
The IT industry is expected to become Britain's second-biggest sector by 2002, after construction, with more than a million employed in computer-related jobs. Yet Europe is facing a severe shortage of workers for the IT
Michael Wills, the learning and technology minister, said UK Online Computer Training was vital if Britain was to be competitive in the knowledge economy. "This initiative will provide essential skills to those who haven't before had the chance to see what new technology can do for them," he said. "It has been designed to be accessible, available and it is free, with friendly support for completely new learners."
Applicants can call learndirect on 0800 100 900 to find where their closest UK Online Computer Training centre is.