Employers will not have to pay for the training
Workers in England are to be given the right to ask employers for training, the prime minister has announced.
Outlining his draft version of November's Queen's Speech, Gordon Brown said staff would be able to request time off to improve their skills.
The government would also extend the right to apprenticeships to every "suitably qualified young person".
Employers could reject requests for training time if there was not a "sound business reason" for it, officials say.
Gordon Brown told MPs: "Every adult should have the right to a second chance in education, to have their chance make the most of their potential.
"It is not only a threat to prosperity but unfair also that adults in work or looking for work are denied the opportunity to get the training they need to advance their careers or even the time off needed to do a course."
He said giving workers the right to request time off to train was a major workforce reform.
Officials say the change will be modelled on the right to request flexible working, where employers can refuse if granting the request would undermine the business.
The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills said employers would be "legally obliged to seriously consider requests for training" but could refuse a request "where there was a good business reason to do so".
Employers would not be obliged to meet the salary or training costs, but officials said the government "would expect many to choose to do so, recognising the opportunity to invest in their business".
On apprenticeships, Mr Brown said: "We expect the numbers of people in Britain starting an apprenticeship to rise by 2011 to more than 200,000 - three times as many as in 1997."
Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills John Denham said:
"If the job prospects of our workforce are to improve and the country is to succeed internationally, we have to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to rise as far as their abilities can take them.
"Learning starts before school and it should not stop when you leave. I believe that skills development has to become an integral part of working life for everyone. A right to request training will help ensure this becomes a reality.
"It will allow millions of employees to start a conversation with their employer about how they can become a more productive member of staff and in turn will encourage employers to better tap into some of the major government supported training programmes available to them."
Employers and unions have welcomed the proposed changes.
Director general of the CBI, Richard Lambert, 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."
Right to ask for training
Employers can refuse
Employers do not have to pay salary or training cost
Business-related 'Train to Gain' funding to rise to £1 billion a year by 2010/11
General Secretary of the TUC Brendan Barber said: "Employers agree nine out of ten requests for flexible working, and if they respond as positively on training it could help millions improve their skills and boost productivity.
"This will pose a real challenge to those employers who neglect training, and give unions an important role in helping individuals to shape their requests to learn new skills."
The director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, David Frost, said: "We support the right to request time to train. It is critical that we up skill the workforce in the UK, and good employers are already doing this.
"However, it has to be light touch and the employee must take some responsibility for organising their own training as a process of self development."
The University and College Union, criticised employers' records on training.
General secretary Sally Hunt said:"For real progress in the nation's skills levels, the government must tackle the failure of a third of employers to provide any training at all.
"The most recent National Employers Skills Survey report, from 2007, reveals that many employers claim their staff are 'fully proficient' while accepting that their businesses have significant skills gaps."
The government also announced on Wednesday that it was pushing back the date by which a commission should report on whether there should be a statutory entitlement to training for people who have not reached GSCE (Level 2) standard.
The UK Commission for Employment and Skills will now report on that issue in 2014/15, instead of 2010, as planned.
The commission will still report in 2010 - but on whether further institutional change is needed to deliver a better integrated employment and skills service.