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Lyndon Wingrove

Thales Learning & Development

Director of Capabilities and Consulting

Read more from Lyndon Wingrove

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The history of learning and development: 1950-1989


After the surge in demand for training that occurred throughout the early part of the 20th century, there was a change in focus post-war. The economic and social changes that occurred from 1950-1989 had a significant effect on the direction on L&D. From the end of the war to the end of the 80s there was a noticeable focus on youth training schemes, with many of the programmes developed during this time laying the groundwork for the training schemes on offer today.

Post-war years

Following the conclusion of the Second World War, employment levels in the UK were at almost 100%; there were increased positions for those in the construction sector, as well as professional services. In addition, the introduction of the formalised National Health Service in 1948 meant increased employment opportunities for many women who could take up nursing or clerical roles. With such a high level of employment, the government decreed that the responsibility for training workers should lie with the employer. During this time the primary means of L&D delivery was apprenticeships. 

These were regulated by national agreements between industries and relevant unions, however they were notably variable across different sectors so did not guarantee the same level of support for all employees. Similar to the developments in the preceding years, informal workplace training was also key, especially for newly developing industries and for those beginning work in the newly created NHS.

The 70s

Despite the considerable success Britain saw in the years directly after the Second World War, this did not remain the case for long. By the end of the 60s employment rates had started to decline and unemployment became a significant issue in the 70s. In an effort to combat the rising unemployment, the government introduced several new schemes, primarily focused on helping young people into work. In 1978 the Youth Opportunities Programme (YOP) was introduced which provided training and work experience opportunities to school leavers, as well as support in preparing for work. 

The scheme saw some considerable success, with reports suggesting that around 162,000 undertook training through the scheme in its first year, with many more in successive years. Due to its success, it was expanded when the Thatcher-led government took over and continued to run until 1983 when it was replaced by the Youth Training Scheme.


Alongside the youth-focused training schemes that continued in the 80s, in 1987 an effort was made to help develop more clear-cut and standardised training that was specifically focused on work-related skills. To this end the National Council for Vocational Qualifications was set up to design and implement the National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ/SVQ in Scotland) framework which would lay out a structured approach for vocational qualifications. 

This new initiative was intended to ensure that all individuals undertaking one of these work-related courses were achieving the required level of competency needed for a specific role, and that these skills were being assessed fairly across all sectors. Aside from apprenticeships it was one of the first government-backed work-based assessment programmes that allowed individuals to prove their ability within the actual workplace; it also had the benefit of providing a formal qualification upon completion. 


Due to the growing diversity in geographical employment needs, the government concluded that a more local approach may be the best strategy when deciding how training should be funded and allocated in specific regions. To help create a greater degree of autonomy for local bodies, Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) were set up in England and Wales (the scheme was called Local Enterprise Companies in Scotland and Northern Ireland). The TECs were small employer-based groups who had responsibility for funding training and enterprise in their local area as well as managing local training schemes. 

The purpose of the TECs was to dually help set up businesses, and assist in their development, as well as providing training and support to the unemployed, and fund vocational qualifications. They also had some influence over local educational focuses based on the forecasted industry needs of the area. The TECs were a successful enterprise, helping many businesses to establish themselves, and ensuring appropriate training was available to residents, helping to target the demands of each region and reducing unemployment. The scheme was abolished in 2001 and replaced by the Learning and Skills Council. 

In the final part of the series I'll investigate how L&D has evolved during the 2000s to become what we know today. 

2 Responses

  1. When the responsibility to
    When the responsibility to train workers was with the private sector, companies naturally trained workers to provide skills they needed. Employment was strong. As the government took on responsibility to train workers, employment fell.
    It would seem the lesson from history is very obvious. The private sector is far more effective and efficient than the government. This is entirely consistent with what we see in socialist countries, Greece, Argentina, Russia, Cuba, etc, where the standard of living growth is zero or falling, versus those countries that support private ownership, otherwise knows as capitalism. Take the politics out, and learn from history, as the Chinese have done, and the best path forward becomes obvious.

  2. is this really the history of
    is this really the history of L&D or more the history of gov funded work based training.
    but then you missed the major part which was the ITB elements which were huge and impact much of what we have today, including the now defunct STA on which the PTTLS & Level 3 quals are based!

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Lyndon Wingrove

Director of Capabilities and Consulting

Read more from Lyndon Wingrove

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