The UK's system for helping people gain skills has been damaged because government policy has been "going round in circles" for decades, a new report has claimed.
Awards body City & Guilds said policies on skills had "flipped" between departments and the system had been disrupted by constant change and ministerial reshuffles.
There have been 61 secretaries of state responsible for skills and employment in the past 30 years, producing 13 major Acts of Parliament, said the report.
City & Guilds chairman Sir John Armitt said: "They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.
"It would be madness to ignore the evidence of three decades of skills and employment policy yet our politicians have failed to learn from the past. This report is a wake-up call to all policymakers."
Mikki Draggoo, head of corporate relations at the City & Guilds Group, added: "We've seen politicians from every party making pledges about what they will do to close the UK's skills gap.
"But a successful system is too important to sacrifice for a headline that will be recycled as yesterday's news."
Neil Carberry, the CBI's director for employment and skills, said: "The education and skills landscape is complex, with an array of new initiatives. This report is a welcome and much-needed call for clarity and coherence, and should be used to kick-start an era of policy stability in skills provision, with a real focus on putting the needs of our economy at the heart of vocational learning."