Moves to hive off theory from practice in training are being proposed as a means of tackling low take-up of national vocational qualifications.
Employees and jobless trainees could be offered the chance to take new preparatory qualifications providing them with the knowledge and understanding for particular work, before moving on to apply the theory afterwards.
However, industry leaders have expressed reservations over the move, proposed in Gordon Beaumont's report on the top 100 NVQs. The Confederation of British Industry said any preparatory awards should remain within the existing system of general national vocational qualifications.
But training chiefs deny the move represents a fundamental revision of the nature of NVQs, which would still also be offered in their original integrated form.
John Hillier, chief executive of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, said: "We will never change the concept of the NVQ through a preparatory qualification. The NVQ remains the goal."
In sectors such as construction, he suggested, trainees might be sent to college by employers to pick up theory, then put their skills into practice in the workplace. The system would formalise existing moves by some employers to link with colleges for some elements of training.
The proposal for the so-called NVQ part one could reconcile the difficulty of applying one qualification for both employees and jobless school-leavers and adults.
Those without work might also take the preparatory qualifications, but then adequate Government funding would be needed to ensure they moved on to a full NVQ, said Mr Hillier. "To maroon a young person with only a preparatory qualification is not satisfactory."
The decision on the part one qualifications would be left up to employers during consultation on the report, he said.
Industry chiefs backed the findings of the report, but shied away from supporting proposals for a new preliminary award.
Tony Webb, CBI education officer, said: "Our instinct is that such an award ought to fall within the GNVQ structure. It would be wrong to have a new qualification outside the national framework."
The CBI and NCVQ are agreed on the need to simplify the language and sharpen the relevance of NVQ standards specifications.
Recent research by the Institute for Employment Studies revealed the dramatic shortfall in take-up among smaller employers compared with larger firms.
In a recent document on lifelong learning, the CBI suggests providing small firms with vouchers to fund a training needs analysis. The deal would depend on employers drawing up a business plan and on delivering NVQs.