Pressure is on to beat goal for adults
Colleges and training providers need to double the number of adults achieving GCSE-level qualifications every year in order to meet government targets for the workforce.
A study for the Learning and Skills Development Agency has revealed that the targets will require an extra 100,000 adults to meet the level 2 standard each year.
The Government pledged to increase the number of adults in the workforce with five good GCSEs, or equivalent qualifications, by 3.6 million between 2001 and 2010. At present, an estimated 7 million adults in England and Wales lack them.
Frontier Economics, which carried out the study for the LSDA, said that better-qualified young people coming into the workforce will only have a small effect.
More than two-thirds of the target will have to be met through increased adult education, which is only achieving half the numbers currently required.
Mick Fletcher, research manager at the LSDA, said: "It's possible to underestimate the difficulty of stimulating demand. Adults are all volunteers. "We can affect the supply side and change colleges' priorities.
But unless individuals come forward and want to study, it doesn't matter how many courses there are."
Any expansion of GCSE-level courses is also expected to damage other parts of adult education, which has already been decimated by cuts earlier this year.
Mr Fletcher said: "The more people who go on to level 2 courses, the fewer resources available for non-priority work. It's not the case that increased fees can bridge this gap."
The report identifies target groups which could be encouraged to improve their qualifications, including those adults who already hold between one and four GCSEs at grades A* to C.
Pam Vaughan, the LSC's director of skills for employment, said it was more than doubling the size of the national employer training programme, which allows people to study at their place of work. With 50 per cent of unemployed people lacking level 2 qualifications, the LSC also wants to collaborate with Jobcentre Plus.
The report points out that the largest group of people without level 2 qualifications are skilled workers, who are also more likely to respond to efforts to bring them back into education. Mr Fletcher said that, while these people may not have reached level 2 at school, they are not "languishing in unemployment".
He said: "If they are doing a skilled job without level 2, they're not likely to have a strong need for further qualifications. There is a dilemma. The easiest way to meet the target may be to go for this group, but it may not be the best thing for the individuals or for the economy."
Julian Gravatt, director of funding and development at the Association of Colleges, said FE does not bear all the responsibility for level 2 qualifications in the workforce.
Although GCSE A*-C pass rates have now hit 61.2 per cent, 250,000 16-year-olds leave school each year without five good passes, he said.
It was unclear whether there would be enough demand from adults nationwide to meet the target, Mr Gravatt said, although some courses, such as plumbing, can have six-year waiting lists.
He said that by diverting more money from general adult education, the Government would risk losing students who may need to start at a lower level, even though they may be the ones most likely to benefit.
"It shows the risks of basing the budget on the targets," he said.