Education secretary Charles Clarke has called for better links to be forged between contractors and secondary schools to meet the sector's skills crisis.
Speaking at the Electrical Contractors Association annual dinner on Tuesday, Clarke said: "I believe we are not spending training funds well enough.

We are not building a strong enough relationship between employers and educational institutions.

You [the employers] are developing your own capacities without strong relationships with further education.

"Education needs to link to your needs. I want to invite and encourage you to engage very much in the education agenda. I want all secondary schools in the country to develop a relationship with you to ensure people in schools understand how you operate."

Referring to last month's government announcement that schoolchildren would be offered training in construction trades, he said: "Vocational training should be part of every school's learning experience. I don't think vocational training is for less able pupils."

Clarke added that he was going to push for two-year vocational degrees so that higher education can be directly related to the industry.

"There has to be close collaboration between you and us through the new sector skills council to build vocational degrees," he said.

Clarke went on to say that the government broadly supported the industry's call to ban the use of retentions.

"We accept the fundamental point of the issue of fair payment, which is vital for the continuing success of this industry. I believe we share the same agenda in this area."