A report published this week gave damning evidence concerning the state of construction training today. This critical problem needs to be addressed – and fast
The Adult Learning Inspectorate's report on construction training does not make good reading for an industry suffering from skills shortages. Its first annual report says that construction training is inferior to other industries and, damningly, it found that less than half of construction apprentices complete their training successfully.

A lack of key skills such as numeracy and literacy was given as a major reason for the low achievement rates. Learning providers don't have sufficient resources to teach them, says the ALI. Many also fail to assess apprentices in this area and aren't aware that people are not gaining qualifications on their courses.

Of the 40 learning providers examined, the ALI found that only a quarter provided a sufficiently broad range of learning. The report said many providers were unaware that the achievement rates were low on their programmes, and that there was insufficient identification and sharing of best practice among the provider's staff.

There were some positive findings. The retention rate on modern apprenticeship programmes in construction was high at 87%. Induction courses were said to be generally well planned and effective, and at least 56% of learning sessions inspected were of a good standard. The ALI praised off-the-job training schemes and said that most site supervisors gave learners valuable support. But co-ordination of on- and off-the-job training was given the thumbs-down.

In response to the report, the government has announced that it would be seeking to improve the match between training and the needs of the industry. Skills minister Ivan Lewis said that new sector skills councils would act as a bridge between colleges and companies. Colleges that failed would face intervention from central government, said Lewis, who promised that vocational colleges would benefit from the 1% real terms increase in education spending announced in last month's spending review.

This week, the Construction Industry Training Board announced another £5m in grants available to registered companies. CITB chairman Sir Michael Latham urged employers to apply for a share of the £75m available to recruit and retain 16 to 19-year-olds.

Some sectors of construction believe that the training situation won't improve until the government changes its attitude towards vocational training. Tony Thomas, head of the Heating and Ventilating Contractor's Association, says that the "British obsession" with sending as many people as possible to university undermined vocational training by making it appear second best.

Both Thomas and the Institute of Directors say that the government aim of sending 50% of young people into higher education by 2010 would have a detrimental affect on post-school vocational education. "In short," says Thomas, "the industry needs more competent artisans and fewer second-rate media or business graduates."