Government training schemes, favoured by all political parties as a "motherhood and apple pie" solution to unemployment, are misguided and an "expensive way of doing very little" according to a report published this week.
Len Shackleton, associate head of economics and business studies at the University of Westminster, challenges the current obsession with training because he says recent business surveys have revealed that employers do not want people with narrowly based vocational qualifications or craft type skills. Rather they are looking for individuals who are well educated and work friendly. "The priority then becomes investment in schools and colleges rather than training schemes," he says.
While government training schemes have helped individuals and brought some wider social benefits they have had little overall impact on levels of unemployment according to Mr Shackleton, writing for the Employment Policy Institute.
"Qualifications certainly help individuals to get to the front of job queues but there is little to suggest that they expand the number of jobs available," the report says. "Moreover, the skills to which qualifications attest may be little use in practice. Employers may be better served by improved general education of the workforce than by a proliferation of narrow vocational qualifications."
Government policies to promote training do not inspire confidence, Mr Shackleton adds. Levy schemes have little basis in economic reasoning and can distort private sector training efforts. And retraining schemes for the unemployed produce some benefits to the individual but appear to have little impact on overall unemployment.
Reducing aggregate unemployment to acceptable levels requires a commitment to other policies some of which, according to the report, are likely to prove more controversial than training.
These include major reform of the tax and social security systems to make it more attractive for workers to take jobs and invest in their own training; a programme of public sector investment creating real jobs; improved matching services by the employment service; and an EU coordinated commitment to economic expansion and an abandonment of the restrictive commitment to monetary union.
The Skills Mirage, Employment Policy Institute. Tel: 0171 735 0777.