Proposed scheme could see 300,000 extra adult students in search of college places
A boost in adult student numbers is expected under a planned new right to request time off work for training.
The proposed new entitlement would apply to 22 million people. Employers would be allowed to say no only if there were sound business reasons - and would have to explain their reasons in writing.
The plan was announced on Tuesday by John Denham, the innovation, universities and skills secretary, subject to a consultation process to end in September.
He said: "Investment by government and employers in education and training has played a large part in building economic success in recent years. But we have still not persuaded every employer of the importance of skills. A third of employers still do not train their staff."
The policy will apply to every worker in England who has given more than 26 weeks of service to their employer.
The Confederation of British Industry welcomed the fact that ministers are not compelling staff to have time off for training.
John Cridland, CBI deputy director general, said: "Employers will be pleased that the Government has ruled out compelling them to train staff irrespective of their circumstances and opted to introduce the right to request instead. The most effective spur for training is the mutual benefit derived by both employer and employee, not regulation.
"Employers clearly value the importance of skilled staff and already spend pound;38.6 billion a year on staff development."
David Lammy, the skills minister, said: "We have about 8 million people in the workplace who are going without training every year. We have a significant issue about low skills in the British workforce. I'm pleased this has been broadly welcomed by the CBI. This is about people being heard by their employers. It is about starting a debate in the workplace about training."
The move is being compared by ministers to the right to flexible working hours - which can be taken to an employment tribunal if the employer refuses. Tribunals will also be available as a last resort for workers who feel they have been unreasonably turned down for time off for training.
Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said: "This new right could make a real difference to the learning landscape in the UK. If it proves as successful as the right to request flexible working, then millions of workers across the UK could find themselves on courses that will update their skills, making them not only more productive but also in a better position to move on into more highly paid, better skilled jobs."
Ministers claim an extra 300,000 workers will seek training from colleges and other providers as a result of the initiative - a figure based on research by economists into the levels of demand among employees.