One of the most prominent developments in vocational education and training in recent years has been the development of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) in England and Wales, based on the assessment of an individual's competence at work. However, the initial implementation
of the NVQ policy generated a considerable amount of criticism. The standards of occupational competence on which the NVQs are based were attacked for being too narrow; employers appeared reluctant to take up the new qualifications; and the introduction of NVQs appeared to exacerbate, rather
than mitigate, the "jungle" of vocational qualifications. Drawing on in-depth interviews with key informants and an analysis of relevant documentation this article ascribes the initial failure of the NVQ initiative to progress in the manner that its planners had originally anticipated to the
existence of certain institutional constraints: the political imperative to manage high levels of youth unemployment; inadequate accountability and supervision in policy implementation; the presence of a renewed ethos of voluntarism in UK labour market policy; and the weakness of employers'