Single parents in England could face a compulsory "skills health check" two years before their Income Support runs out, the government says.
People's skill levels will be assessed, the government says
Ministers say they want a "seamless journey from benefits to work".
The government will also look at making training mandatory for people who are on Job Seekers' Allowance (JSA) for more than six months.
Skills Secretary John Denham said in a Commons statement: "The world continues to change and we must change too."
The government says it wants to reduce the number of people not in training or employment, to deal with the economic challenges of globalisation.
At present, lone parents lose eligibility for Income Support and move on to the job-focused JSA regime when their youngest child turns 16.
The government has proposed that, subject to consultation, the age should be lowered to 12 next year.
Mr Denham told MPs the government would also end the "16-hour rule", so short-term Housing Benefit can still be paid to those training for more than 16 hours a week.
He added: "These reforms are fundamental to creating a stronger, fairer and more prosperous society."
Under the government's plans, out-of-work benefits claimants will have their skills "screened" when they make their original claim.
After six months on JSA, claimants who have not engaged with the "adult advancement and careers service" face a mandatory "skills health check".
The government says it will also ensure long-term benefit claimants who move into work see an increase to their income of at least £25 a week.
Shadow skills secretary David Willetts said no one would quarrel with the objective of a more skilled workforce but there was "uncomfortable evidence" that many of the government's schemes were not working.