Minister tries to silence skills council 'cynics'
Mr Lewis said cynics were"talking down" sector skills councils, adding that it was vital to create bodies which would impress employers more than the existing national training organisations.
NTOs - some of which face losing government funds unless they can turn themselves quickly into SSCs - have claimed the process of doing so is too bureaucratic.
But at the first UK Skills Convention at Salford Quays, Greater Manchester, Mr Lewis said that it was more likely that people were dragging their feet.
Only 7 per cent of employers are aware of the 72 NTOs which existed at the start of this year, but the new sector skills councils would have more chance to raise employer awareness of training needs, he said.
The Sector Skills Development Agency will develop performance indicators for SSCs, he said: "We will be looking for evidence that the new network is looking beyond the usual suspects and developing a more challenging vision."
Five SSCs already exist and five more are being developed. The final figure is expected to be about 30. The SSDA is launching a pound;1 million employer leadership fund to generate more employer interest and to bolster "weak proposals" submitted by existing NTOs.
Christopher Duff, SSDA chief executive, said too few UK employers appreciate the need to improve workers' skills. "Some companies, communities, regions and sectors are locked into an equilibrium of low skills and low productivity," he said.
Mr Duff was speaking the day after the Prime Minister's strategy unit published an action plan which stressed that employers must develop their workforce and pointed to the need for better training.
In a speech made to the conference by video, Chancellor Gordon Brown said it was important to have the same ambitions for the 50 per cent of people who do not intend to go into higher education.
More than half of the 300 delegates said the Government's target of one half of young people entering university was too high, while 51 per cent thought skills shortages were partly due to a lack of foresight among employers and poor management.