Almost two-thirds of employers have failed to take advantage of the three main Government job schemes, according to a survey.
One in four of those employers did not know they existed, according to the independent research body, Industrial Relations Services. The findings have alarmed leaders of colleges and employers committed to the scheme.
They say the findings call into question the prospects for the programmes' widespread success in returning the long-term unemployed to work and undermine the Government's aim to reach ambitious national education and training targets.
The targets, which aim to improve competitiveness for the next century, are the central issue behind a consultation report on lifetime learning, which Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard promised would be out by late November.
In her speech at Carlton House, London, she sketched out future Government policy, stressing priorities for the 14-19 age group particularly disaffected young people and for wider adult education and retraining.
"Young people have unprecedented choices of what to learn and where. Colleges and modern apprenticeships now sit alongside schools as attractive options. "
She pledged new tax breaks to encourage workplace training and, borrowing from the Commission for Social Justice set up by the late Labour leader John Smith, announced "training accounts" to which both employers and employees would contribute.
But the IRS survey of 93 public and private-sector employers in Britain shows that there is still considerable work to be done convincing employers to invest in training. It found 26 had participated in one or more of the three return to work schemes Training for Work, Work Trials and Job Interview Guarantee.
Just under half of those opting not to take part said they had no difficulties with recruitment and so had no need of the programmes. Nearly a quarter had stayed away because they doubted the schemes could provide workers with adequate skills.
The researchers said the responses raise serious questions about employers' commitment to Government job training policies.