The new exam will help to tackle the current ‘skills famine’ says the former head of the CBI

Former CBI head Sir Digby Jones has said the construction GCSE could help shore up a widening skills gap amongst young people in the UK.

Opening a construction training centre in Lancashire, Jones said: "Demand for skills in this country is too low and it is vital that we develop more employable skills - skills in terms of behaviour and a desire to learn as well as in a craft or trade."

Digby Jones
Jones: New exam could help tackle 'skills famine'

He added that initiatives such as the new exam help to tackle what he called a “skills famine” affecting the economy.

Jones’ comments were attacked by Ucatt general secretary Alan Ritchie. He said: “There is no shortage of young people in Britain desperate to begin a career in the construction industry. Last year over 50,000 people applied for a construction apprenticeship but only 9,000 places could be found.”

Ucatt says traditional forms of training such as apprenticeships must not be cast aside in favour of the new exam. Ritchie added: “To think that just bringing out a certificate will help to resolve the long-term problems of skills shortages in the construction industry is entirely ridiculous.”

Meanwhile, the examination board that offers the qualification admitted the government faces a public relations battle to ensure the GCSE is not seen as inferior to the new construction diploma, which is being rolled out at the same time.

A spokeswoman for examination board Edexcel told The Guardian: "This is an issue for the Department for Education and Skills. Hopefully the two qualifications will be valued the same. It will have a PR job with parents and students to make sure that the qualifications have equal footing. As far as we are concerned we see the two qualifications as being complementary."

Edexcel’s comments came one month after Education secretary Alan Johnson told the Association of School and College Leaders that the diploma initiative could go “horribly wrong”.