Employees will be able to request time off for training

Employees will soon have the right to request time off for training under the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill.  

The legislation is expected to be in place by 2010 and it’s estimated that about 300,000 people a year will benefit from being able to improve their skills.

The details of the bill are yet to be finalised but ministers have revealed that they want staff to be able to request time for training after they have worked for their employer for just 26 weeks. That would involve 22 million workers in England.

Requests for training will have to be treated in the same way that employers treat requests from employees to work flexible hours. That means the employer will have to consider the request seriously and although they will have the right to refuse, they will have to show that there are sound business reasons for doing so. Such a reason might be that the employer doesn’t feel that the requested training would improve business performance.

This would place quite a responsibility on employers because if they turn down requests without good reason they could find themselves falling foul of the law and even in front of an employment tribunal. The flexible working model has been chosen because it will enable employers to work within the law using the kind of procedures they should already have in place to deal with requests for flexible hours.

The kind of training envisaged by the Government includes accredited courses leading to specific qualifications, and unaccredited training to help staff develop skills relevant to their jobs. The only requirement is that the training should help improve the firm’s business performance and productivity.

The legislation will apply to firms of all sizes although it’s accepted that a smaller firm may have more good business reasons to reject a request than larger companies. An employee can only formally request training once in any 12 month period, although there is nothing to prevent them also making informal requests.

Ministers have not yet given details of penalties for not complying with the new legislation but no doubt they will in due course. For now, they prefer to promote the benefits of providing staff training.

They point out that many forward thinking firms already invest heavily in training to the tune of £38.6 billion a year – a figure that is steadily rising. The Government also provides funding through its Train to Gain programme. This funding will rise to more than £1bn a year by 2010. Firms with fewer than 50 staff may also be able to apply for wage subsidies when they release staff for training.

Employers who don’t already have staff training programmes in place or provide employees with training opportunities may wish to start preparing now for the new legislation.

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