Critics fear the proposed civil servant layoffs could impair Elwa's operation and jeopardise valuable work with redundancy-hit companies. Lay-offs also come just as Elwa is expanding its remit to include school sixth-forms.
The body was set up in April 2001 to replace training and enterprise councils and the Welsh Further Education Funding Council. It won praise for its work with the thousands of people hit by job losses at steel giant Corus last year.
Elwa announced the proposed redundancies to staff this week. Although it hopes most will be voluntary, some may be compulsory. The layoffs are part of a long-term plan by the National Assembly to reduce Elwa's running costs from pound;19.3 to pound;16.2 million over three years. A statement from Elwa said: "The details are still being decided and we hope to make the redundancies voluntary, though we can't rule out some being compulsory."
The Public and Commercial Services Union Cymru has been in talks with Elwa to agree voluntary redundancy packages and possible redeployment to other public bodies. Around 120 staff from offices in St Asaph, Swansea, Newtown and Caerphilly are expected to go, said the union.
But there is concern over how losing such a large proportion of staff will affect Elwa's operation. Some civil servants who played an important role in helping redundancy-hit companies are on short-term contracts and could be among the first to go.
"The question has to be asked of both Elwa's chief executive and the minister," said Peter Harris, negotiation officer for PCS Cymru. "Are they confident that by getting rid of 20 per cent of the workforce, Elwa can actually do the things that it's been set up to do?"
Pauline Jarman, Plaid Cymru assembly member for South Wales central, quizzed education minister Jane Davidson on the redundancies during a recent National Assembly debate. "The irony is that Elwa has been involved in dealing with people who have been made redundant from the steel industry with a view to them accessing other careers," she told FE Focus.
A Welsh Assembly spokesman said: "The national council is different from its predecessors. If it is to meet the challenges facing it, it must consider the structure and skills it needs."