By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — A fast-track information-technology training program aimed at cutting the long-term jobless and tackling skills shortages in the computer industry will mean well-paid jobs for people who have not worked for years.
The idea for the imaginative program came from the computer industry, which approached the government a few weeks ago, according to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
The initiative involves some of the household names in the computer industry, such as IBM, Corel and Microsoft, who have plants in Ireland.
Under the plan, 3,500 unemployed people will receive government-funded training over three years and be offered placement in IT industries leading to full-time jobs.
The unemployment rate of 7 percent is the lowest for 15 years, but there is concern that the long-term jobless are not getting work.
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The taoiseach said it was ironic that the country was also facing a skills shortage that was threatening the consolidation of local and international IT industries when the government was trying to make Ireland a magnet for e-commerce and Internet developments.
"The pace of technological change we face now is unprecedented and we must respond rapidly, and continuously, if we are to sustain out economic performance," Ahern said.
Tony O’Dowd, an executive vice president of Corel and co-chairman of the FIT (Fast-track to Information Technology) program said it had already been proved that the long-term unemployed were capable of taking highly skilled jobs in IT industries.
In Dublin’s Ballymun jobs center, a pilot project called Tramlines had shown the concept worked.
"When the Tramlines students graduated, they took positions in the industry earning anything from £13,000 to £15, 000 in the first year and some of those students are earning in the mid-£20s at this stage and are very happy and very fulfilled," O’Dowd said.
He said that Corel was finding it hard to keep pace with its recruitment requirements and salaries were increasing all the time because of the demand for workers as there were fewer and fewer available.