The Government has commissioned an audit of the whole training framework in an effort to streamline the structure of vocational qualifications and to restore confidence in job-related courses.
The millionth National Vocational Qualification was awarded this week. Yet NVQs are still attracting severe criticism from the business community. Dominic Cadbury, chairman of the CBI's education and training committee, told business leaders at Birmingham: "The NVQ remains too costly, too bureaucratic and too much geared to larger employers who have the resources to turn it to their advantage."
Even the value of training is being questioned. The Employment Policy Institute this week published a study which found that training was "an expensive way of doing very little" and would not solve the jobless problem because skills deficiencies are not the major factor in creation of mass unemployment. In a fringe meeting at the CBI conference run by Conservative MP John Redwood, Liverpool University's economics and accounting professor Patrick Minford said: "The nostrum of training is not going to solve the unemployment problem."
Mrs Shephard admitted there was some "overlapping activity", with a variety of education and industry links. She said the audit was intended "to help develop a clear framework" with programmes which deliver "value and meaning".