The qualifications system often leaves employers baffled, MPs were told this week.
"When you talk to them about NVQ level 1 and level 2, they point you in the direction of the lift," said Victoria Gill, training adviser for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
She told MPs on the education select committee that the dilemma for the Government was whether to find out what training employers want and then provide it, or to decide what it wants and persuade employers to take it on.
Her colleague Martyn Sloman told the committee that qualifications need to provide a clear indication that an individual has acquired certain skills.
"Unfortunately, not all qualifications achieve that credibility in the labour market," he added. "Employers will have a positive attitude to people pursuing relevant qualifications, and generally will bear the costs of what they consider to be relevant training."
He said training and development is seen as a key to recruitment and retention of staff, and there is less concern that employees will take their skills elsewhere.
However, employees want a "portable" qualification, he added, and learners should be allowed to take responsibility for their own learning. The modern approach is to allow individuals to seek the skills they require rather than setting down rigid routes to achieving qualifications, he said.
"You can make people sit on courses but you can't make them learn or make them apply," he told the committee on Monday. "A lot of important learning is informal learning in the workplace, where people find out for themselves what they need to know."
He said it is important for the Government to recognise there is only so much it can do in leading the way in developing skills and it should be left to "business drivers" to determine training needs.
"A sensible organisation will only do it (provide training) if they are convinced it is an appropriate thing to do," he added. "People have to have the ability, the motivation, and the opportunity."
What employers want most, he said, were employees with "good habits, who turn up on time, and are presentable", and who possess basic skills and reasonable intelligence.