SIX more areas of the country are to get government cash to reimburse employers who release staff for workforce training.
They were announced this week as Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, confirmed in his budget speech to Parliament that there will be an extra pound;130 million for the employer training pilots.
The total budget for the programme is now pound;170m.
Under the scheme, workers get free training and the Government pays compensation to employers for the wage costs of absent staff. Employers are able to specify the type of vocational or basic skills.
Bryan Sanderson, chairman of the Learning and Skills Council, said: "This is great news for business as it will allow the roll-out of pilots to many more companies.
"Employer training pilots have seen a remarkable take-up in their first five months; 1,500 employers and 7,000 employees have already signed up.
This demonstrates how low-skilled workers can be trained to improve productivity.
"They reach companies that have never previously engaged in workforce training, and employers decide which type of vocational or basic skills training they require."
The new pilot areas are South Yorkshire, Kent, Leicestershire, London East, Berkshire and Shropshire. The first-phase pilots, which are still in operation, include Birmingham and Solihull, Derbyshire, Essex, Greater Manchester, Tyne and Wear, Wiltshire and Swindon.
Mr Brown announced the union learning fund will increase from pound;11m to pound;14m a year by 2005. The fund provides education in the workplace, with staff being advised about courses to suit them by union learning representatives who are trained to act as mentors.
Chris Humphries, director general of City amp; Guilds, said: "It is reassuring to see that, despite the economic and political climate, the Chancellor continues to recognise the importance of skills training.
"The Chancellor's measures highlight the benefits that vocational education can bring to Britain's economy."