Fast Track: The European Computer Driving Licence

CHELTENHAM COMPUTER Training has an unorthodox business ethos: anyone can download all its training material free, provided they don't mind looking at large, grey capital letters telling them that this is a sample and cannot be used for training.

More than 4,500 internet users visit the site on a typical working day (and the majority of them pay for what they download). Lately, these numbers have been swelled hugely by the surge of interest in acquiring a European Computer Driving Licence. This has nothing at all to do with driving on the other side of the road, and everything to do with obtaining a standard competence in computing skills that is recognised all over Europe.

The awarding body in this country is the British Computer Society, based in Swindon. "It's aimed at anyone who wants to prove their competence in using a PC,'' says Peter Bayley, project manager for the ECDL in the UK.

"It may well be useful for graduates leaving university without having done IT or an IT-related degree.''

The ECDL is an attempt to instil a common, widely-recognised standard for computer skills. It is broken down into seven modules: basic concepts of IT, using the computer and managing files, word processing, spreadsheets, databases, graphics and networking. Thirteen European countries have adopted it.

Equivalent to level two in the National Vocational Qualification in using IT, the new licence differs in that it is test-based, whereas the NVQ involves building a portfolio of evidence. Students have to buy a log book (pounds 25) and a syllabus (pounds 5 - although this can be downloaded free) and have to sit the tests at accredited centres, usually schools or colleges.

One-off test fees are about pounds 12-pounds 15 for each module, but colleges running courses may charge pounds 80-pounds 90 a term for instruction, to include the tests. Absolute beginners may need more than 120 hours' instruction, and college fees vary.

Although the ECDL could prove too basic for some people considering a career in IT, others would find it challenging - and indicative of their willingness to take the initiative. Easynet managing director Brian Mulligan said companies were well-disposed towards people who had undertaken some vocational training off their own bat.

"We're in favour of NVQs and vocational training of any description. The first thing we look for is experience and if they have that, we don't examine their qualifications too closely. Without experience, you're looking at their academic record. We are impressed by people who have, of their own volition, chosen to do product-orientated courses such as Novel or Microsoft.''

Details of the ECDL from: ECDL, the British Computer Society, 1 Sanford Street, Swindon, Wiltshire SN1 1HJ. Tel: 01793 417497. E-mail: Website:

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