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These were John Denham’s words at TUC Congress in Brighton this year as he took to the stage and spoke passionately about skills in the workplace and the Government’s increase in apprenticeships. He promised support for all young people and highlighted the role of unionlearn and union learning reps, calling them "best friends in the workplace - colleagues that can advise, support and even coerce you into doing the right thing."

These were John Denham’s words at TUC Congress in Brighton this year as he took to the stage and spoke passionately about skills in the workplace and the Government’s increase in apprenticeships. He promised support for all young people and highlighted the role of unionlearn and union learning reps, calling them "best friends in the workplace - colleagues that can advise, support and even coerce you into doing the right thing."

The proposed new legal right to request time off for training has vast support. Seven in ten (71 per cent) working people would like to see a new legal right to request paid time off for training and more than half (53 per cent) say they would be likely to use it. The poll showed that people aged 18-24 were the strongest supporters, with four out of five (82 per cent) agreeing that 'employees should have a legal right to request paid time off for training'. Three in five (59 per cent) agreed that 'if there was a legal right to request paid time off for training I would ask for more training'.

Unsurprisingly, those with no formal qualifications are also very supportive; 76 per cent support the right and 56 per cent say would be likely to use it. However, we at unionlearn are concerned that despite this apparent enthusiasm to learn new skills, low skilled workers are the least likely to receive training at work. Just nine per cent of employees without formal qualifications participated in job-related training in the last three months, compared to 38 per cent of graduates, according to the most recent Government statistics.

We see a clear role for the 20,000 union learning reps based in workplaces across the country, who are encouraging both employers and their colleagues to create a culture of learning. The poll shows what we have always known - workers have a great zeal to learn new skills.

The enthusiasm shown by people on low incomes, those with few or no qualifications and part-time workers shows that while those who most need training have the biggest appetite to learn, they receive the smallest share of the training pie. However, the Government must ensure that any new right to request training is strong enough to make a genuine difference. Otherwise, the one third of employers who refuse to train their staff will continue to shirk their responsibilities and overlook those that need training most. Meanwhile business groups will continue to moan about the lack of skills possessed by the UK workforce. Britain’s got talent – and trade unions are helping to discover it in workplaces all over the country.

By Liz Smith, unionlearn Director

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