The Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI) attributes much of the success of the Entry to Employment (E2E) scheme to the fact that many young people are guaranteed "real" jobs if they succeed.
But colleges are criticised by the inspectors for being too inflexible over starting dates for courses - usually restricted to the autumn. It was "a major stumbling block" to recruitment.
"A lengthy wait between programmes can present a young person with a significant and sometimes insurmountable hurdle to continuing their education and training. Many have to find short-term jobs or courses to fill the gap. Some cannot wait," say the inspectors in a report on the programme.
Support for students with learning difficulties and disabilities is described as "patchy" in the report. Inspectors also point to courses for learners with English as a second language as "weakest".
Nevertheless investment in E2E was paying dividends. "More young people are leaving E2E programmes to continue in the areas of training or employment.
Also, given fresh impetus by excellent individual support, many are beginning to develop the personal, social and vocational skills they need for future success."
Young people on E2E have usually failed at school or work. They lack confidence and self-esteem and suffer significant personal and social problems. One in three young people consider themselves to have a learning difficulty or disability.
But, with the right guidance, say the inspectors, most have considerable potential to succeed. At the end of the last reporting year, almost 21,000 young people were on E2E programmes funded by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), with 320 providers. The LSC reported a success rate of 43 per cent going into work, a college course or apprenticeship. According to the ALI: "While this is not great, it is remarkable given the starting point of these young people."
The report stresses the need for industry support. "The involvement of employers that can provide relevant and flexible work placements is crucial. More employers have to support E2E if the programme is to build on its successes. Where productive partnerships between providers and employers have been established, the rate of progression to 'real' jobs has improved significantly."
Best results were also found where employers and trainers gave maximum flexible and highly individualised training programmes. "Many learners join E2E only 'because they have to' and are more likely to drop out if they feel that the programme is irrelevant to them."