Page last updated at 10:58 GMT, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 11:58 UK

Firms 'not taking training cash'

Adult learning
The training could be at any level

About £15m of government funds set aside for work-related training has not been taken up and has been reallocated, Skills Secretary John Denham has said.

As many as one in three firms do not train their staff, he said.

England's workers are to be given a new right to request time off for training relevant to their job.

Ministers expect an extra 300,000 people a year to receive extra training as a result of the new law which could be in place by 2010.

The government hopes the new right will bring about a culture change.

England's Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills said the new right would work in the same way as the existing right to request flexible working.

The employers who do not train run real risks with their businesses
John Denham
Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary

It comes as the Westminster government attempts to boost the nation's skills as part of its efforts to keep England competitive in a globalised economy.

Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary John Denham said investment in skills was key to ensuring the economy becomes stronger.

"But we have still not persuaded every employer of the importance of skills.

"A third of employers still don't train their staff."

Those that did not train were running "real risks with their businesses", he added.

'Missed opportunity'

Mr Denham said the government was making a record amount of money available for employer-led training.

"But some employers are failing not only to spend their own money on staff training - but also failing to spend ours.

"This represents a missed opportunity for businesses, and a missed opportunity for those who work for them. That's not fair."

Colin Willman, the Federation of Small Businesses' education and skills chairman, said: "We support the government's efforts to get more people into training, but employers should have the final say, based on the needs of the business.

"The government could certainly do a lot more to make it easier for small employers to get the on-the-job training they already offer.

"At the moment the process is too expensive and too bureaucratic for many small businesses to cope with."

Employers will be under no obligation to grant requests for training, as long as they could justify refusal on business grounds, but they would be expected to have a meaningful conversation with an employee who wanted training.

This government has presided over a collapse in adult and community learning
John Hayes, Shadow Minister for Skills

The training itself could be at any level and might be paid for by the employer, the employee or funded by the government or any combination of the three.

Funds would be available to businesses through the Train to Gain scheme, into which the government is investing more than a £1bn a year by 2010.

A consultation on the idea will now run until September, and ministers hope to have it enshrined in law within the next two years.

The Confederation of British Industry director general John Cridland said employers would be pleased the government had ruled out compelling to train staff irrespective of their circumstances and opted to reduce 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 £38.6bn a year on staff development," he added.

General secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Dr Mary Bousted said: "Giving employees the right to ask for time to train is a step in the right direction, particularly as it would be based on the model for requests for flexible working which seems to work well.

"However, we want to see the details of how it would work in practice and be assured workers would be paid while they are being trained."

Shadow Minister for Skills, John Hayes said: "This government has presided over a collapse in adult and community learning.

"Participation in further education is in sharp decline. Enrolments have fallen by nearly 20% in the last year alone and are now significantly below their level when Labour came into power. 1.4million publicly funded adult education places have been lost in the last two years.

"It is right that people should be able to access training flexibly but the lifelong capacity to do so has been eroded by the Government’s myopic preoccupation with narrow targets and short term goals."

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