Education minister says new training body will improve home-grown skills and stem 'short-term' use of migrants.
Charles Clarke, the secretary of state for education, has said the setting up of a training body for construction will eliminate the need for foreign workers.

Clarke said the sector skills council, to be called ConstructionSkills, would train enough British workers to meet the industry's demand for labour.

He said: "The reason why people are coming from overseas is that we are not doing enough in this country to get new skills. The whole structure of the SSC will put that straight. I do say bluntly that the use of foreign workers is a short-term state of affairs. We should be working with our own people to ensure that the right skills are available."

The minister stressed that he wanted to see closer relationships between contractors and schools. He asked: "Surely it's possible to fund work experience in the industry, say one day a week, for 14-to-16-year-olds? There are bits of stuff done about this, but nothing consistent or strong enough."

He said the industry needed to have more influence on courses in further education colleges. "Some colleges are excellent but there are too few of them. We need more, spread across the whole of the country. The colleges have to create courses in conjunction with the industry."

The SSC will be run by the Construction Industry Training Board and the Construction Industry Council. It will have a say in the spending of £300m of central government funding.

We should be working with our own people to ensure the right skills are available

Charles Clarke, education minister

Sir Michael Latham, the chairman of the CITB, told the launch that the SSC would have real teeth. He said: "This body will bring tangible benefits. Becoming an SSC is not about a ceremonial name change or the creation of another talking shop."

Latham said ConstructionSkills would meet the needs of the whole industry, from site workers to professionals. The body has pledged £250,000 in graduate bursaries for 2003/04.

The SSC also received backing from skills minister Ivan Lewis, who stressed that vocational training for schools leavers should not be looked down on. Lewis said: "We should not see it as a secondary route. We talk ourselves down in the way we talk about vocational training."

Also speaking at the launch, UCATT leader George Brumwell argued that the government, as the UK's biggest client, should insist that contractors train their workforces properly. Brumwell said: "You're not getting consistency of training across the board. Unless you do that, all the initiatives will come to nothing."

In a separate initiative, Clarke said his department was working with the Home Office to train workers coming into the UK through the skilled migrants programme.