Deal aims to meet shortage of 324,000 workers in science, engineering and manufacturing sectors between now and 2014
A pound;65m deal has been struck with employers to provide training for staff who need to add vocational skills to their qualifications.
The agreement is between the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, and Semta, the sector skills council that represents companies involved in science, engineering and manufacturing.
It means setting aside pound;65 million of the budget for Train to Gain, which matches businesses to suitable training providers, including colleges, through a network of "skills brokers".
Part of this fund will be aimed at workers who are already qualified to GCSE or A-level standard.
John Denham, the Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary, said it is anticipated that as well as improving the skills of existing staff, employers will need to recruit many more people to the science, engineering and manufacturing industries to keep pace with growth.
This is despite the image of manufacturing and engineering as sectors that are in decline relative to the service sector. It will also mean more opportunities for colleges and private training firms as they are called upon to plug skills gaps.
"It is estimated that between 2004 and 2014, there will be a need for an additional 324,000 skilled workers in science, engineering and manufacturing technologies," said Mr Denham.
"These are the jobs of the future. We can only meet this challenge by working in close partnership with employers, offering improved training support in exchange for an enhanced commitment to engage with that support. We've listened to employers and taken action to remove barriers to training, helping more individual employees and businesses to gain the skills they need to meet the challenges ahead."
Semta says that, as part of the agreement, it will encourage businesses to provide more apprenticeship places and to increase the amount of training companies provide for staff, particularly through Train to Gain.
This is expected to be the first of a number of similar arrangements with different sectors of industry.
They will rely on the expertise of sector skills councils to encourage employers to take up government skills programmes, in return for funding and support.
Philip Whiteman, chief executive of Semta, said: "Our partnership with government will deliver real economic benefits to science, engineering and manufacturing.
"To overcome significant skills gaps and make businesses more competitive, employers need access to funding for innovative programmes like business improvement techniques. These not only upskill employees in a sustainable way, but also put them on the qualifications ladder."
In Semta's sector, the deal is expected to mean 20,000 people gaining level 2 qualifications (equivalent to five GCSEs) in two years, as well as 10,000 level 3 (A-level equivalent) qualifications. It should boost the basics skills levels of the workforce at the same time.
It is also expected that an extra 3,000 apprenticeships will be taken up. Semta will be funded to help companies carry out audits of their training needs.