Working with Ireland's most disadvantaged communities, the Fastrack to IT (FIT) is a successful example of an industry initiative which brings together government organisations with companies such as Microsoft to couple IT skills with a structured programme to help individuals to secure full-time employment.
Innovation in IT training: the fit approach in Ireland
The initiative enables the unemployed and people with low or no education qualifications to acquire the skills necessary to compete effectively in the increasingly knowledge-based economy.
For more than a decade, Michelle Donegan focused on raising her three children. However, as they grew older, she found herself wanting to go back to work. Intent on improving her job prospects and finding employment, Michelle chose to enrol in the FIT ‘Business Through Computers' course offered at the Springvale Learning Centre in Belfast. “I had been unemployed for nearly 13 years and I didn't even know how to turn on a computer,” Michelle explains.
Trainees in the Business Through Computers course at FIT’s Springvale Learning Centre in Belfast
Through FIT, Michelle has become proficient in word processing, databases, spreadsheets and computerised accounts, and she is also applying these skills in an office setting every week. Michelle is one of more than 6,000 people who have changed their lives by participating in FIT training programmes, and she hopes to join the more than 4,500 FIT graduates who have gained successful employment as a consequence of the IT skills learned through FIT.
Assisting the long-term unemployed to enter the workforce is the primary objective of the Business Through Computers course. FIT offers 20 different ICT curricula covering themes such as office administration, design, PC maintenance, networking, programming and web design. To facilitate career development, FIT incorporates CV development and interview training into the curriculum, and provides ongoing career support for a period of up to three years.
Paul Rellis, general manager at Microsoft Ireland, explains: “Microsoft first partnered with FIT in the 1990s when the project was focused on addressing the high levels of unemployment in Dublin city. It quickly became apparent FIT had pioneered an innovative partnership approach to solving the issue of long-term unemployment and social inclusion.” FIT's focus on employability has a strong alignment with Microsoft's corporate citizenship goals and programmes: “Microsoft was one of the first companies that expressed an interest in social and economic inclusion and digital inclusion,” says FIT CEO Peter Davitt.
Currently, the FIT programme is looking to expand across Europe, and there is already a pilot project underway in Finland. Paul Rellis explains: “The fantastic thing is that this partnership model is completely portable. FIT have successfully expanded their services to centres across Ireland and Northern Ireland, and are bringing the programme to the rest of Europe. That expansion is a testament to an industry initiative that is solving a real social need.”