A new business-dominated Learning and Skills Council committee should be created to distribute money paid into a training fund, says Unison, the public-sector union, in its report Learning for Life. Learning for Everyone.
Tom Bewick, a former government education adviser who contributed to the report, admitted that "critics will call it a levy by another name", but stressed that companies would, collectively, have control over how it is spent.
The report says employers should have a "statutory duty to develop every employee to help them realise their full potential".
Companies which spend more than pound;1m a year on salaries would be expected to contribute 1 per cent of payroll costs to the fund.
The report was welcomed by John Healey, a treasury minister who was previously adult skills minister at the Department for Education and Skills, although it remains to be seen whether the proposal will be adopted as part of the national skills strategy.
Pressing the need for reform, he said: "We estimate that half of the productivity gap with Germany is due to the skills gap that we have in this country."
He promised government departments would work closely together to ensure skills are improved.