Government-backed Investors in People (IIP) had a faltering start, with stubborn resistance, particularly from smaller employers. But it now has the backing of the three main political parties and covers a quarter of the workforce. It needs a major thrust to achieve the Government target of 70 per cent workforce participation.
Speaking at a conference organised by the Trades Union Congress as part of the European Year of Lifelong Learning, Mrs Shephard said a programme was needed to raise awareness of IIP.
"For employers it is the gold standard which provides a framework for lifetime learning. For employees it results in more job satisfaction, more opportunity to innovate, more commitment. In short, better skills."
It was good for business, she added. Companies had reported marked improvements in productivity and profitability, growth in exports and lower absence rates.
The conference, held at the TUC's London headquarters, attracted around 300 people from education, training, and unions, also heard from Labour and Liberal Democrat education spokesmen.
Labour's David Blunkett attacked the "ridiculousness of a government paying lip-service to education and training yet denying opportunities for the vast majority".
Don Foster said the Liberal Democrats gave education and training top priority and would place a 2 per cent training levy on payrolls which would be linked to IIP schemes.