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Low Skills Not Beyond Our Ken

VOCATIONAL education has never been a priority for Conservative governments in Britain. Many cabinet members and major supporters attended public schools where they were led to believe that their destiny is for leadership roles in society.
The thought of becoming a carpenter, bricklayer or, dare I say, a floorlayer, is seen as the ultimate indignity. Harsh as it may sound, I believe this is one cause of the current skills crisis holding back the UK construction industry.
Sadly, Britain has become a low skills, low productivity economy. Now before you stop reading and shout at me, let me quickly say that those aren’t my words. That was said recently by no less than Kenneth Clarke, after being sacked from the cabinet by David Cameron.
Ken Clarke was the most experienced person in Mr Cameron’s government. An MP since 1970, Ken held most senior cabinet posts (Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary, Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Education Secretary and Health Secretary). He served under three prime ministers, including Mrs Thatcher. Known as staunchly pro-European, he stood for the Tory leadership on three occasions, each time rejected by the party’s right-wing.
Significantly, Ken attended a grammar school and is from a working class family in Nottinghamshire. His view of the UK being a low skills, low productivity economy is contrary to what Mr Cameron is trying to say in his many ‘photo opportunities’ ahead of next year’s election.
After being shown the door at Downing Street, Ken was quick to warn that the economy remains ‘fragile’ and to tell the media that with the service sector contributing up to 78% of GDP, a stronger manufacturing industry is vital to entrench the recovery. He believes there is a ‘long, long way’ to go before the UK has productivity levels that are high enough to deliver sustainable growth and compete with emerging powers such as China and Brazil.
As is consistently stated in CFJ, Ken contends that the poor focus on vocational education is a major cause of the UK’s abysmal productivity levels. Recent figures from the ONS reveal the output per hour worked in Britain is 21% below the average for the other G7 nations, USA, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada. And as a result basic wages and living standards in the UK have suffered their most prolonged decline since 1964.
Contrary to what Mr Cameron was hoping, Ken Clarke is likely to be more outspoken now, saying things that the country and the electorate would be ill-advised to ignore. As we have frequently stressed, the priority for everyone in construction is to encourage and to promote more opportunities for training.
If Ken is right, the UK could be facing a new downturn, causing the so-called green shoots of recovery to wither and die, which is the last thing we need.

This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal. You can find them at