Academy aims to solve the IT skills shortage

ONE ORGANISATION that is attempting to do something about the acknowledged skills shortages in information technology is Cisco Systems, the California-based supplier of Internet products and services.

It has just announced an initiative, under the name of the Cisco Networking Academy Programme, to set up academies across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The first of these is due to open its doors in the UK - at Edinburgh University - next month.

According to Mike Couzens, director of marketing and training for the region: "Addressing the IT skills shortage is top of the agenda for companies in all industry sectors. Employing the right people who understand technology is fundamental for companies who rely on technology to bring about competitive advantage."

The rapidly growing company says that the pace of recent technology developments - such as the Internet, intranets, the Year 2000 issue, and data and voice recognition - is far exceeding the availability of skilled professionals capable of implementing and helping businesses to take advantage of the opportunities. In particular, networking is the fastest growing IT sector and is forecast to become a pounds 5bn market by 2001 in the UK alone, according to Datamonitor Research, but this demand is not being met by the supply of skilled technicians.

Cisco hopes it can help solve this crisis by offering individuals places at its Networking Academies, where they have the chance to learn and practise data networking skills.

Gaining knowledge and practical experience through completion of a series of modules covering everything from basic networking concepts to trouble- shooting skills, students are eventually offered two levels of tuition. The Cisco Certified Network Associate course provides basic skills on building local and wide area networks. The Certified Network Professional course teaches students how to build and configure complex routed and switched networks.

The courses form part of a multi-level training model developed by the company. It starts with the academy training centres, which are typically housed in universities and train staff for the regional academies. These regional academies incorporate the networking courses into their own curricula and take responsibility for recruiting and training staff for the local academies - usually colleges of further education that offer courses to local students.