Colleges are failing to put jobseekers on courses that will help them find work, inspectors are warning.
Instead, these adults are being offered basic classes which simply lead to qualifications or more training, according to an Ofsted report.
Less than one in five jobseekers were successful in gaining work after taking courses at a further education (FE) centre, it found.
The watchdog said that finding employment is not considered a high priority, and that more must be done to match people to courses that will lead to jobs, the Press Association reported.
Ofsted's report looked at how good colleges and other FE centres, such as private providers and local councils, were at matching jobseekers to courses that will help them find work,
It comes in the wake of a push by government to get colleges to prioritise vocational training for unemployed adults.
The report found that out of 10,270 jobseekers at 31 colleges and other FE centres, 19% found work.
Many centres were not offering adults challenging courses that were likely to increase their chances in the workplace, it said.
"Progression to employment was not a high enough priority," the report concluded.
"Too many programmes focused on the achievement of qualifications and the funding did not extend to training which led to job-focused licences.
"While the employability programmes provided good support in job search skills, they generally failed to tackle participants' often deep-seated barriers to employment."
Inspectors found that some centres were slow to respond to the government's initiative, launched last August,
Just under half of the centres visited said they had faced problems in recruiting people for specific job skills, which had led to low numbers and cancelled courses.
The most successful attempts to get people into work were through tailored programmes set up with businesses, local councils and jobcentres, the report said.
Many of the places visited did not do enough to boost students' literacy, numeracy and language skills, it added.
"Just over half the providers referred participants with low-level skills to their existing long-term programmes," Ofsted's report said.
"Although this provision often provided good teaching and learning towards qualifications, it typically failed to provide intensive training in work-related skills required for specific job roles."
Matthew Coffey, Ofsted's national director of learning and skills, said: "Currently 8.2% of the population is unemployed, with latest figures showing that of these, 1.41 million have been so for more than six months.
"Ofsted's skills for employment report aims to assess the efficiency in matching unemployed adults to courses to develop their skills, enabling them to find suitable employment. We found that many courses simply lead on to more courses and did not address the urgency to get unemployed adults back into work."
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