Almost 22,000 employers with little or no tradition of training have signed up for free government cash to improve the skills of their workforce.
The number represents a fraction of more than 1 million enterprises in England entitled to the grants under the Government's Train to Gain scheme.
But ministers say it is a significant start.
Employers can get a full refund on the cost of training staff to level 2 (GCSE equivalent) if they seek advice through an independent brokerage scheme. The service offers independent advice and links the company to a college or other training provider to suit individual business needs.
There are 3.7m enterprises in England, employing 19.4m people. Almost 2.8m are one-person bands, 845,870 enterprises have up to 10 employees, 160,205 have 11 to 249 employees and more than 5,000 have above 250.
The struggle ministers face convincing small firms to train staff was revealed last week in a YouGov poll commissioned by the Learning and Skills Council.
Nearly half of small businesses are unaware that they can get free training for their staff from their local further education college, the research revealed.
The poll also found that 57 per cent of small companies do not use FE to train their employees.
Grants available since August have benefited 75,000 staff (0.2 per cent of the workforce) but most of these are among the least skilled and qualified in the country, according to Phil Hope, learning and skills minister.
"Train to Gain is an ambitious new approach to workplace skills," he said.
"It is a key part of this government's drive to push skills high up the agenda and maintain our competitiveness. Brokers are targeting the hardest-to-reach employers who have not traditionally trained their staff.
"We are reaching out to SMEs (small to medium enterprises), in particular, who can make use of free provision to give people the crucial platform of skills for employability."