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Cisco vows to give 4,000 Brit kids a proper IT schooling

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Digital London Networking giant Cisco has pledged to leave the UK a technology “investment legacy” after the Olympics that’ll deliver thousands of skilled workers for IT.

Cisco is hooking up centres of learning across the UK and plans on opening networking academies in East London and the Olympic boroughs.

Neil Crockett, managing director of Cisco’s London 2012 work, said on Wednesday that his company will connect several “nodes” this year starting with the Ravensbourne digital media and design centre in Greenwich and Birmingham’s Science Park. Cisco is the Olympics' networks provider and a sponsor.

Cisco will open two "innovation" centres in London – one in Silicon Roundabout in Shoreditch and another at Olympic Park – plus 30 academies that’ll teach skills in networking technology designed to prime thousands of youngsters for work in IT. Cisco will deliver this over a five-year period.

“We believe 4,000 kids from East London will go through those academies and get jobs in IT,” Crockett said while speaking at the Digital London event in Docklands.

“We have got a need here in this industry. The Olympics is a huge opportunity for catalyst. It can drive innovation and growth in the IT industry.”

The lack of skilled graduates coming into UK tech was highlighted and lamented by Microsoft and UK retailer John Lewis, also at Digital London

All three companies, plus others, are participating in the UK government’s plans for a technology curriculum that finally qualifies students for a decent career in tech rather than just teaching them how to save an Excel spreadsheet.

In development is a computer science GCSE through a programme called Behind the Screen that’s being devised by IT sector training body e-skills UK with input from employers. The existing curriculum was scrapped in January following sustained criticism from employers for failing to turn out qualified students while other nations forge ahead.

According to John Lewis, the number of those taking computing A levels is down 53 per cent since 2004 nationally and 23 per cent in London, while UK residents applying for tech-related higher education courses has fallen 44 per cent since 2001.

UK tech is ageing, too: the number of IT professionals under the age of 30 has fallen to 19 per cent from 33 per cent in 2001, while – according to Cisco – there are 60,000 vacant tech job slots in the UK. “We’ve got a bit of a crisis,” said John Lewis IT director Paul Coby.

He said some modules in the new GCSE are now running in pilot mode with broader pilots due next year – 20 schools are participating as guinea pigs.

Microsoft UK managing director Gordon Frazer speaking at Digital London said of the work: “The GCSE needs a lot of work and we completely agree with that, and we are doing a lot of work to get it back to the caliber that's needed.”

Coby also made it clear this is not just a matter of putting in place a new qualification. Tech has to improve its image as a whole, especially among young girls.

“Tech is a really cool thing to do” in places like Bangalore, he said. “The Indian graduates will work enormously hard to get into the Tata, Wipros, Microsofts and Ciscos in India. It ain’t like that here. We really need to get over why IT ain't cool. It's not a problem people have in other parts of the world.” ®

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