ONLY 24 train drivers out of 15,000 have been awarded a national vocational qualification in the past four years, Malcolm Wicks said this week.
The lifelong learning minister has written to Sir Alastair Morton, chairman of the shadow Strategic Rail Authority, to say that training for people working in the rail industry needs urgently to be improved.
He has invited him to discuss using the regulatory and franchising frameworks to improve skill. He has suggested that rail operators' standards of staff training could affect whether they won or lost a franchise bid.
He told Sir Alastair that "pitifully few" employees gained national qualifications, or were externally assessed to consistent national standards, and this had to change.
Mr Wicks wants to see clear training and skills targets built into the franchises of the train- operating companies, as well as into the plans of Railtrack. The Learning and SkillsCouncil could help the industry meet those new targets, he said.
Mr Wicks has proposed that a small working group should be set up, bringing together the Department for Education and Employment, the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the SRA, the Rail Industry Training Council and the Learning and Skills Council.
"The group would be tasked with producing early proposals to raise levels of training, assessment and external validation.
"It would consider setting targets for the industry, which could be reflected in the criteria for assessing the skills and training commitment of potential franchise bids. The targets could also underpin the LSC's strategic planning to help meet rail industry skills needs."
The Government was particularly interested in action to improve take-up of qualifications.
"I know that you too regard this as a top priority," he told Sir Alastair.