A report from the National Advisory Council for Education and Training Targets confirms suspicions widely held by employers and educators that the goals set by the Government for 2000 are far out of reach.
The study published this week finds that the UK's target of 30 per cent of the workforce having a higher-level vocational, professional, management or academic qualification "is only likely to be reached several years into the next century". At present, only 23 per cent make the grade.
Cautiously describing the target as "challenging", the report says significant improvements will be needed not only in the skills of the existing workforce but also of those currently in the education system if the goal is to be met.
The target for higher-level qualifications - the equivalent of a degree or national vocational qualification level 4 - is one of three lifetime learning targets established by NACETT on the Government's behalf in order to boost the UK's flagging performance on training. Labour has said it is also committed to meeting the targets.
While the NACETT study, carried out by the Institute for Employment Studies at the University of Sussex, offers gloomy predictions, its analysis of the UK's current global position is more upbeat. It places Britain third in the league of higher level qualifications, behind the United States and Japan.
However, another study also out this week says Britain has slipped to 27th place in a world league table on investment in education and training.
Global rankings published in the World Competitiveness Yearbook of the International Institute for Management Development show the United Kingdom has plummeted nine places down a league of 46 countries since 1989.
In terms of overall competitiveness, it has fallen from 15th to 19th place over the past year, overtaken by countries including Chile and Luxembourg. Britain's weakness on investing in people is the key factor behind the slide.