In a letter to deputy prime minister John Prescott, Gains said he was “disappointed” by his attack on the board. Prescott called it “a disgrace” for not tackling the skills shortage adequately (see Building, 11 April, page 12).
Gains said that the government should consider its own education policies before blaming the CITB. He wrote in the letter: “We are particularly concerned about plans to put more and more young people through university when there are great opportunities for them in an industry that wants more vocational and less academic qualifications.”
He claimed that most contractors felt the CITB was doing a good job and had done much to improve its responsiveness to the needs of industry.
Gains said that vocational training was under-resourced and regarded as a poor relation by the education establishment. He offered to meet Prescott to brief him on the subject, and said he would be taking up the issue with education secretary Charles Clarke and his colleagues at the Department for Education and Skills.
Gains said that there were signs that the pendulum was swinging back towards vocational training.
He said: “Young people are seeing that it can offer more long-term rewards, and the school curriculum is also changing – for example, with the introduction of a vocational GCSE in construction next year.”
On 11 April, Building revealed that Prescott had asked Sir John Egan to carry out a review of skills shortages.
In a statement accompanying the appointment, Prescott said: “It’s a damn disgrace the construction industry hasn’t produced the skills that it needs. It is one of the few industries with a levy-based training scheme and one that, to my mind, doesn’t work well.”