Employment Training

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


This page offers an overview of why we are interested in employment training as a means of encouraging local economic growth and offers insight on what does and doesn’t work in this policy area.

It summarises some of the evidence we already have on what works when delivering these types of programmes, provides guidance on what we know about the effectiveness of different ‘design features’, and offers some thoughts on improving evaluation as well as some case study examples. Throughout the page you’ll find links to further resources including a more detailed discussion of why we look at employment training, our full evidence review and toolkits, as well as evaluation resources.

What do we mean by Employment Training and how can it deliver local economic growth?

Employment training refers to training targeted at people over 18, including retraining initiatives. Employment training at the What Works Centre focuses on the impact of training that is in some way publicly subsidised.

Training is intended to support local economic growth by improving skills. Higher skills at the local (and national) level are linked to better economic performance and improved labour market outcomes.

Governments support employment training because of the strong links between skills and economic outcomes and because:

  • Firms may not provide enough training if they worry that trained workers will leave.
  • Firms and workers may under-estimate the benefits of training.
  • The public benefits of training, e.g. in the form of higher local economic growth, may exceed the private benefits.

Governments can provide direct or indirect support for a range of employment training policies such as:

  • Provision of formal qualifications.
  • Courses on soft skills.
  • 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 like the New Deal and the Work Programme.

Find out more about why we look at employment training and how we define it.

What does the evidence on employment training show?

Training can have a positive impact on individual earnings and employment.

In-firm or on-the-job programmes tend to work better than classroom-based training.

Short programmes are best for less formal training, while longer term programmes may be more suitable when content is skill intensive.

Our evidence review covers further findings on the role of the local economy, on the nature of provision and on a number of other areas of interest. 

You find more details in our full evidence review.

What policymakers need to know when designing employment training programmes

The evidence suggests that the design features of employment training programmes are more important in determining effectiveness than wider economic factors such as the availability of jobs. The existing evidence base provides some guidance on how to develop programmes to improve policy effectiveness.

Some of this evidence is discussed in our evidence review, with additional evidence on particular aspects of programme design summarised in our toolkits: 

Careers Counselling helps individuals choose appropriate training to help improve take-up of programmes.

Financial Incentives are payments offered before, during or after training to help improve take-up and completion of programmes.

Pre-qualifications courses are a pathway to further education or training to help improve performance and completion of programmes.

Reminders provide people with information about their training by text or email to help improve attendance on programmes.

Read more about the employment training toolkit.

What policymakers and academics need to know when evaluating employment training programmes

We need to improve our understanding of the value for money of different approaches to employment training. Future evaluations should help us understand which aspects of programme design can improve cost effectiveness as well as providing a more accurate assessment of the overall effect of schemes. You can read more about how to evaluate here.

To help practitioners to evaluate employment training policy, we have pulled out some examples of good practice in this area:

Adult education vouchers (RCT) This study tests the effectiveness of adult education vouchers on labour market outcomes, using Swiss data.

Vocational training in Sweden (statistical approach) This study assesses vocational training programmes for the unemployed in Sweden during the 1993-97 recession.

Support for the long term unemployed (statistical approach) This study evaluates two UK Government programs targeted at the long-term unemployed: Employment Training (ET) and Employment Action (EA).

You can learn more about how we rank evaluations using the Scientific Maryland Scale.

Evidence Review Downloads

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