The government finally admitted this week that vocational training needed an overhaul. Skills minister Ivan Lewis said employers needed tailor-made training schemes to meet skills shortages, and pledged an overhaul of post-16 education. His comments just happened to coincide with government body the Adult Learning Inspectorate's first annual report, published on Tuesday.
Those in construction will be all too aware of the report's conclusions about our industry's training record: course provision is poorer than in other sectors, education providers are struggling to recruit would-be apprentices, achievement rates are low, and many students have literacy and numeracy difficulties (see news). The study also found weaknesses in IT training, which are holding up the implementation of new technology in the industry. Indeed, the IT experts we assembled this week attest that this is a major barrier to progress.
The report is proof of the industry's long-standing beef – the opinion that vocational training is only fit for academic failures; hence the lack of good recruits to fill much-needed posts that happen not to require a degree. Construction Confederation president John Gains asserts that the government's ambition to get 50% of young people into higher education is flawed. And he is backed by the Institute of Directors, which called for reforms in training policy last week.
The time is right for a backlash against Labour's university obsession. Perhaps a strengthened Construction Industry Training Board could add weight to Gains' argument. The body is applying to become a sectors skills council, which would give it strategic powers on top of its levying and grant-awarding roles. And it would have the advantage of direct access to skills minister Lewis.
One of the learning inspectorate's most pertinent findings was that the only training provider found to be outstanding was a private company. This emphasises that beyond demanding financial backing to attract and nuture skilled workers, there is plenty the industry can do itself.
More Milton Keynes than Milan
You have to take your hat off to Wimpey. When style guru Wayne Hemingway attacked volume housebuilders in the national press, the firm didn't trot out the usual guff about giving the market what it wants. Instead, it asked him to help design an estate.
The results may not look particularly radical (see pages 22-25), but they do reflect a genuine attempt to address the aspirations of the typical British family: homes that aren't too scarily modern, with somewhere to park the car and a garden for the kids.
While CABE and the Urban Task Force try to persuade us all to live in high-density European-style apartments set in paved squares, Hemingway's Gateshead scheme is a thoughtful attempt at housing that satisfies our needs without looking like Toytown. It's tea on the lawn rather than cappuccino in the piazza, but what's wrong with that?