Letter of the week

I agree with everything that Jeff Howell said ("Why you can't find a plumber", 25 November), but it's not just in the building trade that lack of training has resulted in such a poor standard of work. As a tree surgeon with 25 years' experience, I have seen the decline of on-the-job training over the years and its replacement by short courses which are churning out people, at great expense, who are certificated but not trained after that.

Those completing the courses are more likely to be employed than those who, like myself, were trained for six months, followed by further on-the-job, intensive training until deemed competent by peers and employer. In recent years, I have had to stand by and watch people calling themselves certificated tree surgeons who can't climb well, can't use a chainsaw well - let alone sharpen one - and who leave the trees they're supposed to have attended to in a far worse state than they were to begin with.

These qualifications are demanded for insurance purposes. Once qualified, the certificate holder can have a ten-year gap after a five-day chainsaw or climbing course and still be insured to do the job. But highly trained and experienced people of my generation without certification are not. As with the building trade, standards have been so diluted over the years that the public no longer knows what a good job looks like. This allows the cowboys to flourish, qualified or not.

John Waterhouse
Leek, Staffordshire

This article first appeared in the 02 December 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Alone they stand, against a dominant PM