Gordon Beaumont, who two years ago led a major review of National Vocational Qualifications, said there was a danger that GNVQs could become "another version of A-levels" if the steady drift towards academic teaching is not reversed.
"We need to take a clear decision over which way they should go, " he told a conference called to increase awareness of GNVQs among employers and trainers from industry. "I would like to see them providing a foundation for work-related qualifications."
Mr Beaumont, who is currently chairing a panel advising ministers which bodies should be recognised as National Training Organisations, claimed GNVQs had been created in a hurry and not based on proper employment standards.
Sometimes GNVQs were geared to the the needs of schools and colleges rather than students or employers, he added. At one centre, geography teachers were delivering a GNVQ in leisure and tourism without full knowledge of the skills required in that sector.
Adrian Anderson, senior policy development manager at the NTO National Council, said employers were behind GNVQs in principle and welcomed the fact that candidates must acquire key skills. But they remained the least understood qualification within the national framework. "There should be greater opportunities for students to gain work experience and teachers should have more chance to go on industry placements," he said.
Jackie Hall, of the Further Education Development Agency said textbooks were incapable of filling gaps left by the absence of work experience.
Some students resorted to ringing up local firms to request information for their assignments, she added. NTOs have pledged to increase employer input into GNVQ programmes. Among the projects planned by the NTO National Council is Careers Explorer, which will map out potential employment opportunities for students with GNVQs, and an awareness-raising campaign among employers.
FEDA and the NTO National Council have launched a joint protocol to ensure vocational qualifications are more relevant to work. FEDA's GNVQ support programme, which is receiving government funding for a fourth successive year, is also looking at progression routes into work.