Wednesday’s skills white paper aims to nail the construction industry’s skills shortage once and for all – starting with a national forum to distribute training funds where you want them to go
The government has handed the construction industry a new set of tools with which to tackle its skills shortage. The skills white paper, published on Wednesday, contains a raft of measures designed to improve the skill level across the UK’s workforce.

Special attention has been paid to the skill-strapped construction sector. The government has formed a National Construction Forum to help distribute £400m of construction training funds more effectively. The NCF will help identify where the skills shortages are most acute and direct training money into these areas. The body comprises private and public sector organisations as well as the Construction Industry Training Board, the DTI, the DfES, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and trade unions.

Crucially, private employers will finally get their say in determining the content of training courses. This is a wise move on the government’s part, as contractors and consultants working in the field are in a far better position to judge the skills required than Whitehall mandarins relying on statistics that have long passed their use-by date.

The NCF has been set up to approve the delivery of the new Sector Skills Agreement, which is an industry partnership between the CITB and the LSC whose task is to determine the skills required and match this with funding and training provision with the help of the NCF. The draft agreement is in development and is expected to be complete by December 2003.

There are a number of other measures in the white paper that should help improve levels of training in the construction sector. These include:

  • Lifting the age cap for modern apprentices so that people aged above 25 can learn skilled trades

  • Offering a £30 weekly grant for adult learners in priority groups to help them study on full-time further education courses

  • Ensuring greater employer involvement in the design and delivery of apprenticeships

  • Reforming qualifications to make them more employer-friendly and responsive to business needs

  • Creating opportunities for adults to gain qualifications in technician and higher craft and trade skills through a Level 3 qualification (two A-Levels or equivalent) in regional or sector skills shortage areas.

Industry and government quangos are broadly supportive of the skills white paper. Bryan Sanderson, chairman of the Learning and Skills Council, is happy to work with industry to formulate demand-led training systems. “The government’s skills strategy opens the way to a structured, planned approach to using funds more effectively,” he said.

Confederation of British Industry director general Digby Jones also welcomed the move: “It is right to recognise the role of employers and give them a greater say in the content and delivery of training programmes.”

The unions also see the sense of involving private industry in the provision of training. “The announcement that the government, employers and unions are to work side by side in the Skills Alliance is a great boost to the unions and the employers,” said TUC general secretary Brendan Barber.