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Too many plumbers in the pipeline

The inability of the middle classes to find enough people qualified to mend their pipes and fix faulty stopcocks has become a potent symbol of the weakness of vocational education in this country.

Chris Woodhead, former chief inspector, and Ruth Lea, then head of policy at the Institute of Directors, have urged young people to reject "low quality" university courses such as media studies in favour of a career in plumbing.

Last February, the Daily Mail reported that the shortage of plumbers is so acute that "children as young as five are now being targeted for a career in pipework and U-bends".

Now it seems, the critics' prayers have been answered. Figures released by Alan Johnson, lifelong learning minister, show the number of students attending plumbing-related college classes has increased by more than a third in two years to almost 30,000 in 20012.

Indeed, so successful have colleges been in attracting students that an industry which 12 months ago was said to need 29,000 new recruits could soon be flooded.

Chris Humphries, director general of the City and Guilds qualification board, told MPs earlier this month that the number of young people training to become plumbers has increased further since 2001.

"There is no risk of us having a shortage of plumbers. My worry is that we will have too many when they come out the other end."

So good news for ministers. But according to Mr Humphries young people's rush to plumbing may have more to do with the wages on offer (said to be up to pound;70,000 a year) than anything the Government has done.

"Young people, perhaps faster than their parents or indeed policymakers, are the beginning to see the way in which the market really works and are voting with their feet," he said.

Can anybody recommend a good electrician?

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