Adults with low skills have a huge unmet demand for training, according to a poll by the Trades Union Congress.
The YouGov survey of more than 2,800 adults found that nearly three out of five people who had no formal qualifications said they would take up the proposed right to ask for time off work for training.
Yet according to a Government snapshot survey last year, just 9 per cent of workers without qualifications had received recent training in their job, compared with 38 per cent of graduates.
The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Dius) is consulting on plans to enable employees to ask for time off to improve their skills. Modelled on the right to ask for flexible working hours, which was taken up by 600,000 people, the Government estimates that 300,000 people could take up training at colleges and elsewhere.
The survey, which suggests there is a high demand for training, comes as the employer-led Train to Gain programme is failing to meet its recruitment targets and underspending its budget by a third.
Frances O'Grady, deputy general secretary of the TUC, said: "The new poll findings show that the biggest appetite to learn is among those who most need it, and who face the greatest barriers.
"In its forthcoming response to the consultation, the TUC will be calling on the Government to make sure that the new right is robust enough to make a genuine difference to the training divide that continues to pervade our workplaces and damage the nation's economic and social fabric."
She added: "In particular, it is most important that the new right has a discernible impact on the behaviour of the one-third of employers who still refuse to offer any training to their staff."
Support for the right to ask for time to train was strongest among the lowest paid.
Under the proposals, there would be a three-stage system for staff: the initial request, an appeal, and the right to take the issue to an employment tribunal if the correct procedure is not followed.
Employers can refuse the request if the training is not relevant, not available, or if it would harm the business.
John Denham, Dius secretary, said: "Despite the progress of the past decade, our nation's skills base does not compare with the best in the world.
"Many employers take skills seriously. But too many adults struggle with low or out-of-date skills: one third of employers do not train their staff and eight million employees in England go without training every year."
The Government has indicated that it would consider giving employees the legal right to time off from work for training, although it intends to defer a decision until at least 2014 to see how successful the current proposals become.
However, businesses have warned against a legally enforceable right to time off.
The Confederation of British Industry argued that it would not motivate low-skilled workers to improve their qualifications.