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Building industry spurns `dogma'

Ian Nash on the skills shortfall that has prompted a demand for 35,000 construction workers to be trained.

Britain's colleges have been asked to help train at least 35,000 new and "desperately needed" building industry workers a year in an open snub to Government policy on competition.

Announcing details of the scheme, Ted Willmott, chief executive of the Construction Industry Training Board, launched a blistering attack on the Government economic policy for allowing 500,000 building jobs to disappear in the five-year recession and for failing to support training with investment.

The industry was now too often characterised by "untrained and unskilled workers who pay no VAT or tax and make a mess of the extension to your house."

Mr Willmott, appealing to the colleges for help, told delegates at the annual conference of the Association for College Management: "We must create 750, 000 new jobs in the next few years. We have to provide high-quality training to National Vocational Qualification level 3 (A-level equivalent) for 17,000 to 23,000 people a year."

Six training schemes, linked to companies and colleges and shaped round old-style and modern apprenticeships, will attract CITB bursaries of up to Pounds 600 per trainee.

With an annual turnover of Pounds 50 billion, the industry creates 10 per cent of the country's gross national product. The CITB administers training for more than half the industry through the levy system, to ensure economies of scale on the "negligible" profit margins of the 180,000 small family firms that are members.

"We are going to work positively with colleges. We are not going to take the offer of competing against the industrial training councils," said Mr Willmott. These were set up four years ago to ensure private-sector competition in the training market.

"We are going to stick with you, whatever the Government officials might want to do to satisfy their wretched dogma. The challenge to both of us is to open doors to construction education and training."

He went on to attack the qualifications system underpinning the training, particularly the new General National Vocational Qualification. It did not provide an adequate basis for work in the construction industry, he said.

"I am concerned that young people will be beguiled by the GNVQs and end up at 18 not being skilled or able to cope with life in the construction industry. " His fears were backed up last week by a report on a huge research project studying the progress of more than 250,000 GNVQ candidates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Carried out by the Further Education Unit, London University Institute of Education and the Nuffield Foundation, it claimed that GNVQs were being seen unrealistically as an A-level alternative for students of lower-academic ability better suited to a vocational career. The CITB is particularly concerned that the wrong messages will be given to 14-year-olds on the new GNVQ Part 1, drawn up to inject more vocational education into schools.

The board had already set up 78 school-based CITB curriculum centres which have helped 4,000 14 to 16-year-olds gain NVQs in construction. It will expand to 120 centres next year and use them to argue for reforms to the GNVQs and to ensure more specific vocational training pre-16. Overall, the CITB initiatives could inject up to Pounds 20 million a year extra cash into schools and colleges.

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