The government has announced that it will cover half of the cost of training for key skills qualifications in sectors such as construction. The move is intended to avert a skills crisis that could undermine the Olympic programme.

Ruth Kelly, the secretary of state for education and skills, announced the move on Wednesday in a meeting with unions and employers. The subsidies, to be piloted in the North-west and the West Midlands before being extended nationwide, will cover NVQ level 3 qualifications.

Kelly said: "With London hosting the 2012 Olympics there is probably no part of our economy or region that will not be affected. By 2012, two-thirds of new and existing jobs will need Level 3 qualifications. Currently, fewer than 60% of electricians and plumbers have the technical qualifications needed, and this figure is under 50% in construction."

UCATT and the National Federation of Builders said a detailed skills strategy was needed to ensure that the Olympic programme did not fail.

Alan Ritchie, the UCATT general secretary, has called for the government to require companies employed on Olympic projects to take on a quota of young trainees. UCATT wants to double the number of apprentices each year to offset the ageing of the workforce.

Barry Stephens, chief executive of the NFB, said: “The risk is that we will fail to get the necessary influx of new skills into the industry to cope with increased demand. We cannot allow skills shortages to affect our ability to showcase what the industry can achieve.”

We do not want to see important projects slowing down in other parts of the UK

Barry Stephens, NFB

Stephens also expressed concern that the size of the workforce necessary for the Olympics could leave shortages elsewhere. He said: “We do not want to see important projects slowing down in other parts of the UK if labour migrates en masse to London.”

Stephens’ concern was echoed by contractor Henry Davidson Developments, which warned that construction costs across the country would rise. Scott Davidson, the firm’s managing director, said: “As soon as work begins on the Olympic facilities we will move into a period of spiralling construction costs as the Games pull skills and materials resources from an already short supply of craftsmen and labour. This will be at its most intense in London, with a ripple effect moving outwards.”

  • The National Construction College welcomed London’s Olympic success but warned the industry that training needed to play an integral role in construction project plans if the sites were to be delivered on time and to a high standard.

David Boyden, a director of NCC, said: “This is fantastic news and I believe the benefits will be felt across the industry. It will provide excellent opportunities for many of the construction workforce – for both apprentices and experienced workers.”

The NCC said that the estimated cost of the London Olympics varied according to the source, with figures ranging from £3bn to £5bn.

Olympic briefs

Coe’s Olympic promise
Sebastian Coe has promised that the British Olympic Association, the Greater London Authority and the government will work together to make sure that the problems that afflicted Wembley national stadium do not blight preparations for the Olympics.

Running harder to stand still
The Construction Confederation had estimated before the decision to award the Olympics to London that the sector needed to recruit 88,000 people every year until 2010 to meet future demand. The Learning and Skills Council says that the industry needs an extra 3000 workers each year until 2012 to complete the work for the Olympics.

Bill before parliament
The government will introduce an Olympics bill this week to set up the Olympic Delivery Authority.

New crown for Gershon?
The government’s efficiency tsar, Sir Peter Gershon, has entered the reckoning for the role of chief executive of the ODA. Others mentioned include former Strategic Rail Authority chief executive Richard Bowker and Network Rail deputy chief executive Iain Coucher.

Starting line-up
Big name architects Foster and Partners, Rem Koolhaas, Foreign Office Architects and HOK Sport are all in the running to design the £265m Olympic athletics stadium.