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It is time for better legislation to support workers to access training:

- The current right to request time off for training falls far short of what is needed.

- Countries like Austria and Belgium provide tangible examples of how this could work.

Written for the on The Leaders Council

In April 2010, the Right to Request Time off to Train came into effect in England. This right means employees can request paid leave to undertake training if they believe it will help them do their job, providing they have been employed for 26 weeks and at least 250 people work in their organisation.

It’s time to go further

Thirteen years on, it is time for legislation to go further to support workers to access the training they need to meet the demands of a changing workplace. In practice, the current right to request falls far short of what workers need; a right to request is merely a right to be rejected.

The reality is that we have the lowest levels of participation in skills since the government started keeping records. The economy is experiencing the lowest levels of investment in skills since 2010. If employer-led training had remained at 2011 levels, workers would have benefitted from an additional 20 million training days.

Workers have continually told us that cost, time off and lack of information are key barriers to accessing learning.

These were echoed in a recent report by the Department for Education. This is particularly the case for workers with fewer formal qualifications who are the least likely to receive training opportunities from their employer and are the most likely to be trapped in low paid, low skilled work.

What workers need is an unqualified right – a right to train, with paid time off for at least ten days per year and the Unions are calling on the government for a much more expansive skills offer, including a new legal right to paid time off to train - underpinned by a renewed Individual Learning Account that would open up training opportunities to all workers.

Experts predict nine in ten workers will need to retrain or upskill by 2030 to gain the necessary skills to stay in employment. A new right to paid time off to train would clear many of the barriers to training faced by workers.

The current government have repeatedly reasserted their desire to deliver a high wage, high skill economy. If this is really the case, they must lead by example, giving workers stronger rights and encouraging employers to invest in skills and build a world-class workforce fit for the future.

What are other countries doing?

In Austria, employees can take leave from 2 to twelve months (within a period of 4 years) for full-time education while receiving a wage replacement payment equal to 55% of their latest net income. Wage replacement payments are also available to employees who pursue part-time education and have their working hours reduced. Employees taking leave have the right to return to their workplace. The employer needs to agree with the leave. Since its last wholesale reform (2007), the training leave scheme has grown into the single most important co-funding scheme in Austria.

In Belgium, private sector workers and employees of public sector companies have the right to short paid educational leave, up to 125 working hours. The scheme provides for the continued payment of salary by the employer to the employee and the possibility for the employer to apply for compensation from the state. Employees on training leave have the right to receive their normal wage, if appropriate.

With the world of work rapidly transforming, it is time for change. A new right to time off to train should be part of a wider package of measures to help workers as the economy and society undergo transformational change, including the move to net zero and automation. This includes reinstating Level 2 entitlements, reversing the cuts to the Union Learn Fund and working in social partnership with employers and unions through a new National Skills Taskforce.

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Image by Larry Crayton


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