New course try to tackle UK IT shortage

The Open University reacts to UK IT skills shortage with “Computing and Its Practice” – a novel IT solution for employees and employers alike.

While demand for skilled IT workers has continued to increase in 2006, the pool of talent with exactly the skills employers need is getting smaller each year and, with this in mind, The Open University has launched a brand new foundation degree – “Computing and Its Practice”.

Aimed at advancing the skills of those already working in entry-level IT, the course enables students to gain a nationally-recognised vocational qualification, whilst making a relevant and valuable contribution in the workplace.

Directly relevant to the workplace and career progression, a foundation degree is a modern Higher Education qualification that combines practical work-based learning with academic study; equipping students with the knowledge, understanding and skills relevant to their employment.

For employers, such degrees are tools which can be used to develop a skilled workforce and facilitate staff retention, something which is increasingly important in the IT sector.

The aim of the Computing and its Practice foundation degree programme is to use students’ experience of working with computers as a basis on which to develop their career within the IT industry and build on their existing skills.

One of the aspects of this new course is the special arrangement the University has with Microsoft. People who have already attained selected skills from the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) programme are rewarded by having these count towards their foundation degree when they complete their related academic studies.

This means the Open University is offering a return on the skills investment made by employers and their staff, who have already devoted time and money to obtaining such vocational qualifications from Microsoft.

A second element of this foundation degree is the focus it places on learning in the workplace and the extent to which the employer is involved. During the work-based learning module of the course, which involves three six-month ‘cycles’, the student explores how to do their own job better – working in partnership with the University and their own employer, they develop a programme of activities based around their current job, designed to meet their own needs as well as those of their employer.

The foundation degree in Computing and its Practice focuses on applications development, client-server support, and systems development and administration. More specifically, the course provides students with:

- a grasp of the key concepts of computing, the types of software systems that are now being developed and the tools and methods used to construct them

- practical skills in the main tasks that are carried out as software is constructed and maintained, such as analysis, design, programming and evaluation

- an opportunity to turn their experience of computing-related work into certificates that are widely recognised by employers

- an ability to work with other people in a team, communicating computing ideas effectively in speech and in writing

- a basis for going on to further study in computing, and for professional and career development in computing

Students will achieve a clear understanding of the main concepts of computing as well as the knowledge required for modern software development. It also offers focused career development, leading to a professionally-relevant academic qualification that incorporates an industry-standard accreditation of the student’s practical skills.

During the work-based learning module, employers would not be expected to do any actual teaching, but would be asked to support the employee by providing an appropriate working environment, setting suitable targets for them to meet in the workplace and appointing someone in the company to oversee and verify the work activity.

Part-time study takes approximately three-to-four years and, looking ahead, students can also study top-ups to gain Honours Degrees.