the government's most senior advisers on skills have warned ministers that their pound;1 billion flagship training-for-work scheme could fail because of pressures to get staff qualified on the cheap.
They expressed concern after college leaders protested about new pressures arising from Train to Gain. Under the scheme, the state pays employers to release staff for basic skills training up to a level 2 (GCSE-equivalent) qualification. It is an employer demand-led scheme for which colleges are asked to provide courses.
The scheme is supposed to spur employers on to pay for higher level skills training. However, college managers told the Learning and Skills Council it was in danger of becoming a rerun of the "disastrous demand-led policies of the 1990s". The result then was pressure on colleges to "deliver the volume of qualifications but little investment in real training".
Rob Wye, LSC strategy director, agreed that urgent action was needed after he heard the protests at the annual conference of the Association for College Management in Birmingham.
"It is a perverse consequence of the demand as people respond to the stimulus to train. If we say we want you to deliver this volume of qualifications, that is what you will do and you will find the cheapest way of getting there," he said. "We see the worrying behaviour you mention and it is not what we want to encourage.
Following the Leitch report on UK skills shortages, ministers put employers on two years' notice to increase investment in training or face legislation. Employer performance under Train to Gain was therefore being closely scrutinised.
"If all you want is a huge number of qualifications, then the quickest way is to assess and badge them," Mr Wye said. "But that adds nothing to the bottom line of UK plc. We need real learning going on."