IT company to create 2,000 jobs

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One of Britain's biggest information technology groups moved yesterday to plug the skills gap in the computer industry by offering to create up to 2,000 jobs, writes Sameena Ahmad.

Telephones to CRT, Britain's largest information technology recruiter, were jammed yesterday as a flood of people from fork-lift truck drivers to policemen clamoured to join an innovative programme to create 2,000 new IT jobs in the UK in the next five years.

The scheme, launched yesterday and costing pounds 70m, is an attempt to solve the critical shortage of skilled computer staff in the UK. Around 50,000 new people are needed in the industry by 2000 to meet demand driven by the millennium problem, monetary union and booming growth of IT in business. CRT's programme, which is targeting women and people over 40 in particular, invites anyone to apply, even those who have never used a computer before, promising applicants who pass a series of tests and a three-month training probation period a permanent, full-time job and annual salary of up to pounds 40,000.

Though the scheme, called Career IT, has yet to be advertised, CRT received 600 telephone calls yesterday asking for application forms. A handful have already returned their forms on email. Karl Chapman, CRT's chief executive, said he was "staggered" by the response. "The only places people will have heard about this is at 5.50am on Radio 5 and just after 6am on BBC Radio Scotland. That's hardly peak listening time. We are absolutely delighted. Tomorrow is going to be very busy."

Mr Chapman said he was looking for people who were "bubbly" and with the right attitude, not necessarily with experience. "Personality is what is wanted plus a logical mind. In IT, only 30 per cent of the spend is on hardware. The rest is on people."

He said the number of women in IT was "ridiculously low" and he would advertise the scheme in women's magazines. The staff shortages, he added, were partly a result of the industry's "geeky image for anoraks".

Richard Holway, the respected IT consultant and author of the industry bible, The Holway Report said: "I think it's absolutely novel. CTR has opened training to people who've got aptitude rather than the expected educational qualifications and that is to be commended. Anything that people can do to solve this desperate problem is welcome."

However Mr Holway warned that CRT's proposals would do little to solve the current skill shortage: "I personally believe there is not much anyone can do to solve this. The problem is acute. The main demand is the year 2000 in the next 18 months and these people won't be ready in time."

Several in the industry are exploring novel ways to recruit extra IT staff. ICL, the computing group, this week wrote to 350 retired staff who are experts in Cobol, the old computer language which is the cause of the year 2000 crisis, asking them to return. Logica, which had a profits warning because it could not recruit people fast enough, opened a walk- in careers centre in London to attract new staff.