Making employer demand drive publicly funded skills training is destined to fail as almost all involvement by businesses in the system is instigated by training providers, inspectors have found.
An Ofsted report examining good practice in involving employers in work- related training says that businesses rarely initiate involvement in publicly funded training, and that the brokerage system has little impact - instead, colleges and training providers have to make the first move.
Inspectors said it raises questions about trying to put employer demand at the centre of the skills system, since companies appeared to need encouragement to participate.
"This has considerable implications in terms of promoting demand-led training," the report says. "Employers rarely made the first move to establish the relationship and become involved in or influential in the provision of education and training to meet their needs.
"None of the working relationships seen in this survey had been initiated by external organisations such as the brokerage service."
Skills brokers received up to pound;40 million a year as the last government put its resources into Train to Gain, but were criticised by providers who questioned the value of their involvement and argued that they successfully engaged with employers on their own without being paid.
Business involvement was better in work-based learning or employability programmes than in courses delivered on college campuses or training providers' premises, the inspectors found.
Employers, students and providers all benefited when businesses were involved in the provision of training, with the quality of provision rising, employers gaining more useful skills and students making more progress.
Regular meetings and visits to business premises were central to providers noted for good practice. Inspectors also found that working with companies to develop resources and training materials was an effective way to involve employers and to ensure courses were relevant to their needs.
Inspectors praised the ability of colleges and training providers to guide businesses through the skills system, removing barriers to participation and balancing their needs with the requirements of national qualifications and government priorities.
There were also clear benefits for the providers: inspectors cited the case of a luxury leather goods manufacturer that turned to a college for help in training replacements for its ageing staff. Together they developed a flourishing apprenticeship training programme, which also boosted recruitment to its other textile courses and helped it to expand into related industries with courses for laundry and dry-cleaning businesses.