The Construction Industry Training Board has promised transport minister John Spellar that it will deliver the thousands of new recruits needed to implement the government's 10-year transport plan.
At a meeting between government and the heads of major contracting firms last week, Spellar asked the CITB for an assurance that the £180bn scheme would not be hamstrung by industry-wide staff shortages.

Hugh Try, chairman of the CITB, said: "We gave the minister an assurance that we would be able to cope; we should have every expectation of meeting our targets."

But Try also admitted that the targets were tough, saying: "It won't be easy, and there will be considerable stresses and strains."

Across the industry the skills shortage will lead to a demand for 70,000 new recruits for each of the next four years, according to the CITB's own forecasts.

Construction in the transport sector will need a large proportion of these recruits, since the government has earmarked £60bn for both road and rail infrastructure as a flagship area of investment in its 10-year plan.

"It seems optimistic," says Martin Hewes of construction analyst Hewes & Associates. "Between 1996 and 2001, there were 34,000 extra people brought in per annum and that was a period of relatively strong growth. To take in 70,000 you'd have to double growth, and do it at a time when the economy is looking weaker. The targets look higher than you'd think was possible."

  • 25,000 children will participate in National Construction Week, with schools across the country involved in more than 300 events planned around the theme of construction. Organised by the CITB, the week will also feature on a special edition of children's television favourite Blue Peter. It is hoped that the show, with its audience of six million, will help to spread a positive image of the industry.