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Wrong side of digital divide

Many workers in deprived areas don't have the skills to access jobs in the new economy. Chris Johnston reports on a pound;252 million drive to get them connected

NINETY per cent of new jobs demand computing skills, but more than half of workers from lower socio-economic groups describe their technology skills as "non-existent".

These new figures from the Department for Education and Employment highlight the reality of the growing "digital divide"between the computer "haves" and "have-nots".

As part of the Government's strategy to tackle the problem, Michael Wills, the learning and technology minister, this week announced that 13 information and communications technology learning centres are to open in disadvantaged areas. They are the first of 700 being a pound;252 million initiative to bridge the gap in computer skills.

The 13 include the Burnley Football Club Adult Learning Centre, where professional mentors will encourage older workers and unemployed people to use computers.

New College in Nottingham will have a mobile centre using satellite technology to bring learning to those such as lone parents who cannot get to college.

Mr Wills said it was vital tha everyone was able to get the skills they needed to find jobs. The centres would link in with other initiatives including the University for Industry and education action zones.

He said: "They will foster new partnerships between public and private and between schools, colleges and the local community, bringing fresh thinking and local solutions to the big issue of reskilling Britain."

A prospectus is available, which details how community groups, the private sector and others can apply to set up an ICT learning centre.

On top of the pound;252m for set-up costs from the Government, money to actually run and develop the learning centres is available from the National Lottery's New Opportunities Fund.

The fund has a three-year pound;200m Community Access to Lifelong Learning programme. Half the Lottery funding will support ICT learning centres and the development of websites for adult learners. The remainder will be spent on linking every public library in Britain to the Internet.

The deadline for the first round of applications is May 5, with the centres expected to be operating by September.

For an ICT learning centres prospectus call 0845 602 260.

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