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Evidence topic: Employment training

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What is it?The rationaleEvidence reviewToolkitsCase studies
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What is it?The rationaleEvidence reviewToolkitsCase studies
Evidence review (PDF) published in June 2016.

Employment training programmes for adults can have a positive, although modest, impact on earnings and employment.

What is employment training?

Employment training refers to publicly provided or subsidised training aimed at improving skills targeted at people aged 18 and over, including retraining initiatives. Employment training can include

  • Provision of formal qualifications
  • Courses on soft skills (e.g. teamwork or communication)
  • Job search advice
  • Classroom training
  • On-the-job training and internships
  • Short-term intensive courses
  • Long-term retraining leading to a degree.

Training policies are often delivered as part of wider labour market programmes.

Our review excluded studies that only looked at

  • Fully corporate or commercial providers 
  • ‘A Level’ education
  • Higher education
  • Apprenticeships

The rationale: How does employment training deliver growth?

Training is intended to improve skills. This is important as higher skills are associated with better economic performance. For individuals, higher skills are linked with better labour market outcomes – i.e. being more likely to be in employment, less likely to be unemployed and higher wages. For local areas, skills are associated with economic growth and improved labour market outcomes.

Government support might be needed whenever

  • Firms do not provide enough training (e.g. if they worry that trained workers will leave);
  • Both firms and workers underestimate the benefits of training; or
  • Public benefits (e.g. in the form of higher local economic growth) exceed private benefits.

Evidence review: What does the evidence say about employment training?

Our evidence review considered almost 1,000 policy evaluations, evidence reviews and meta-analyses from the UK and other OECD countries. It found 71 that met our minimum standards.

What the evidence showed:
  • Training has a positive impact on participants’ employment or earnings in around half of the evaluations reviewed.
  • Shorter programmes (below six months, and probably below four months) are more effective for less formal training activity. Longer programmes generate employment gains when the content is skill-intensive.
  • In-firm or on-the-job training programmes tend to outperform classroom-based training programmes. Employer co-design and activities that closely mirror actual jobs appear to be key design elements.
  • The state of the economy is not a major factor in the performance of training programmes; programme design features appear to be more important than macroeconomic factors.

Policy design can influence effectiveness. For example, short courses and on-the-job training may help improve employment outcomes.

Where the evidence is inconclusive:
  • Comparing different skill content training – such as ‘basic’ versus ‘advanced’ interventions – is extremely difficult: finding suitable comparators (i.e. policies that target similar groups using different types of training) is challenging, and skill content usually reflects real participant differences.
  • Training programmes that respond to structural shocks in the local economy are usually highly tailored to a given local context. This means that pulling out generalisable findings on impact is difficult.
  • It is hard to reach any strong conclusions on private-led versus public-led delivery on the basis of the (limited) available evidence.
Where there is a lack of evidence:
  • We found little evidence which provides robust, consistent insight into the relative value for money of different approaches. Most assessments of ‘cost per outcome’ fail to provide a control group for comparison.
  • We found no evidence that would suggest local delivery is more or less effective than national delivery
  • Involve employers in training: in firm and on the job programmes are more effective.
  • Where participants forgo income during longer training programmes, they may need additional support.
  • Short programmes have a positive impact on larger numbers of people, so appear to be better value for money.
  • There is no difference in success rates between locally delivered or nationally delivered programmes.
  • The impact of training on employment is modest and should not be oversold.


Employment training evidence review
Employment training evidence review summary
Employment training evidence review outcomes table

Toolkits: Advice on designing employment training programmes

In addition to the evidence review, we have four policy design toolkits to help policy makers make informed decisions when designing employment training programmes. Each toolkit covers a specific aspect of programme delivery. The toolkits consider a broader evidence base than the evidence review.

Case studies: Advice on how to evaluate employment training programmes

Employment training schemes that are voluntary can be difficult to evaluate. Individuals who decide to enrol are likely to have different characteristics to those that did not enrol, which can make it harder to measure the impact of the training itself.

To help improve evaluation of employment training programmes, we have four case studies that give examples of how previous programmes have been evaluated. Each evaluation case study has met our minimum standard of evidence, which means it (at a minimum) compares what changed for the individuals that benefited from an intervention with what changed over the same time frame for otherwise comparable individuals that didn’t benefit, or that received a different type of intervention.

Two case studies use a randomised control trial (RCT), and two use statistical approach to try to ‘strip out’ the impact of other factors that could have affected outcomes in both the beneficiary and control groups.

Read more about how to evaluate, and why we think it can be helpful to learn from previous approaches in our how to evaluate guide. You can also read more about different evaluation methods in our scoring guide.