Cable urged to act on construction skills shortage

'We have got to get the construction industry to take ownership of this problem'

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The Independent Online

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has been called on to hold a crunch summit to address the acute skills crisis in the construction industry, which has lost 400,000 jobs during the recession.

A report by a cross-party group into youth unemployment and construction on Wednesday will argue that a high-level summit is the best way to encourage the industry to tackle its growing jobs shortage.

As the economy improves, construction needs 180,000 more workers to build planned bridges, roads, housing and vast infrastructure projects by 2018.  However, government figures show that the industry started training only 13,700 apprentices in 2012-13 – down 39 per cent from 22,400 just two years earlier.

Nick Raynsford, a former Labour construction minister who is co-chair of the inquiry, told The Independent that a similar summit on the industry’s safety record in 2001 overhauled attitudes in what was until then a highly dangerous profession. He hopes Mr Cable and Sir David Higgins, chairman of High Speed Two, will host the summit alongside the industry veteran James Wates, who heads construction’s specialist skills body.

Mr Raynsford said: “We have got to get the construction industry to take ownership of this problem. The number of apprentices is completely inadequate and we’re hearing construction firms beginning to openly talk about recruiting internationally.”

The inquiry was launched last summer and has been backed by influential Westminster figures such as Baroness Susan Kramer, a former Liberal Democrat Mayor of London candidate.

Mr Raynsford’s co-chair is the crossbencher Lord Best, president of the Local Government Association, who led the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for nearly two decades to 2006.