A £350 million employer ownership of skills pilot failed to have any impact at all, a damning evaluation report published by the Department for Education today has revealed.

The project, which ran from 2012 to 2017, was designed to test the effect that giving employers direct access to public funding had on their own investment in skills, or if it boosted skills in the workforce.

It failed on all counts, according to today’s evaluation report, written jointly by CFE Research and the University of Sheffield – in part because the money went to employers that were already involved in training.

The findings have prompted the Association of Employment and Learning Providers to call for an inquiry.

“There is no evidence to suggest that EOP has changed attitudes towards training or that it led to subsequent increases in the number of staff trained,” the report said.

This was partly due to “high levels of training already undertaken by EOP employers” and the “positive attitudes towards training they already held”.

“As such, EOP cannot be said to have reached a large cohort of employers that had not previously trained their staff.”

Further analysis showed that after one year employers in the pilot “do not report higher levels of training compared to a matched counterfactual group”.

This was based on “the proportion of employers delivering training; the average number of workers trained; and the average proportion of the workforce trained”.

Although the salaries of learners in the pilot “sometimes increased following the programme”, the level of increase was “no different to that experienced by other individuals on workplace training outside of EOP”.

“This whole exercise was a very sorry tale based on a poorly misguided reading of the skills marketplace,” said Mark Dawe, AELP chief executive. 

“Lessons have been learnt, especially in relation to the apprenticeship reforms, about the importance of providers in supporting employers in the delivery of publicly funded programmes, but given this involved a budget which was half the size of the young people’s apprenticeship budget, we believe an inquiry is called for.”

The pilot was announced in November 2011 by former prime minister David Cameron (pictured above), who said he hoped “this radical new approach will encourage even more employers to take on apprentices and ensure that the UK workforce has the skills we need to boost growth”.

It was led by the now-defunct UK Commission for Employment and Skills, before responsibility passed to the DfE as part of the machinery of government changes in 2016.

A review of the first stage of the pilot, published in April 2015, found it had resulted in less than 40 per cent of the starts originally planned.

Today’s report found that around most employers involved in the pilot had a “positive experience”.

“We are pleased that learners and employers who took part in the pilot found the training beneficial,” a DfE spokesperson said.

“We have drawn useful lessons from this pilot, and employers remain at the heart of our skills programme.”