I was sorry to hear that Sir Michael Latham was saddened to read my article and I thank him for his efforts to raise my deflated spirits.
However his letter (17 January, page 34) did not address the points I raised in my article. In fact, it was just a collection of anodyne platitudes.

I would like to start this letter with two propositions:
1) There is a severe shortage of trained craft operatives in the construction industry.
2) Large numbers of operatives who enter the industry are undertrained and underqualified.

If either of these statements is true, then who is to blame? Or, to put it another way, which organisation has been responsible for training in the industry for the past 30 years?

Like all large organisations, the Construction Industry Training Board is more concerned with its own continuing existence than with anything else. The reputation of the CITB within the industry is that of a bureaucracy that it is nearly impossible to deal with. Sir Michael claims that there are many good and exciting (for whom?) things happening at the moment, which really does sound like rearranging the deck chairs as the industry sinks beneath the waves.

This complacent, smug or self-satisfied attitude is the one we have grown to expect from the CITB. The view from the basement is not the same as that from the exalted heights inhabited by Sir Michael. For example, we craft lecturers had to deal with a constant turnover in low-level CITB staff. Often, our CITB contact would be seen once and then never spotted again, making it nearly impossible to build up any kind of partnership.

Sir Michael says: "A lot of work goes into developing qualifications." I am sure this is true, but many of the CITB's specifications are incoherent, and a large amount of its paperwork is produced late. I once taught a CITB qualification for six months before the syllabus arrived.

He also states that his organisation provides grants for employers to attend half-day programmes advising them of their role. I have known instances when these programmes have been run in colleges, and not one employer has bothered turning up, even though they were promised half a day's pay.

The basic problems in training craft operatives for the industry remain. These are:

  • The difficulty in recruiting high-calibre trainees. (And there are fewer women in the construction crafts than there were 10 years ago.)
  • The reluctance of the industry to pay for training.
  • The fact that most major companies do not directly employ craft operatives.
  • The low social standing of the construction crafts.
  • The CITB has a long way to go to ensure a supply of well-trained, highly qualified craft operatives.