The Time to Train consultation document was published last month by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS). It contains a proposal to allow employees who have 26 weeks’ service to request that their employer allow them time off work for training. The consultation will remain open until 10 September 2008. The legislation could be in place by 2010.
The need to encourage further training
The consultation paper sets out powerful arguments for increasing the skills base of the workforce. The UK working population is, for example, disproportionately low in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development rankings in respect of skills. The proportion of adults in the UK workforce with the equivalent of a level 2 qualification or better is just 67 per cent, compared with 88 per cent in the US. The UK’s output per hour is also low, lagging 20 per cent behind that of France, 13 per cent behind Germany and 18 per cent behind the US.
The Government aims to increase the nation’s skills base radically to become a world leader in skills by 2020. It is envisaged that employers will be key players in this process, given that almost 75 per cent of the 2020 workforce has already completed compulsory education. Currently, however, 8 million employees in England go without any training.
The Government hopes that the introduction of the right to request time off to train “will be a significant driver of cultural change, and action, in relation to skills”; furthermore, that “skills will become a hot topic of debate in the workplace, motivating employer and employee alike to new achievements”. The consultation paper cites the right to request flexible working, the model on which the “time to train” proposals are founded, as an example of legislation leading to a change in practice and attitudes. The paper notes that 6 million employees currently have the right to request flexible working, but that more than 14 million workers do, in fact, work flexibly.
It is proposed that any request for training must fulfil two criteria: it must assist the employee to be more productive and effective at work; in addition it must help the employer to improve productivity and business performance. Requests may involve an accredited programme leading to a qualification or unaccredited training to help the individual develop a specific skill relevant to his or her job.
Under the proposals, employees would need to set out their requests in writing, explaining the nature of the training or qualification, how it relates to their work and, critically, the amount of time it would take. They would have the right to be accompanied at any meeting to discuss their request.
The proposed right to request time off to train is just that: a right to make a request and to have the request considered. It is not intended to impose an obligation on employers to grant requests.
The DIUS is inviting suggestions from interested parties on this point, but it proposes that the legislation should allow employers to reject requests for the following reasons:
• the training would not help the individual employee become more effective and productive at work or it would not contribute to improved business performance or productivity
• suitable training is unavailable or is not available at a suitable place or time
• the burden of additional costs
• detrimental effect on quality, performance or ability to meet customer
• inability to provide cover while the employee is absent
• planned structural changes.
Preparing for the future?
The impact of the introduction of the proposals, should they become law, could be significant. The consultation paper says that 22 million employees in England would potentially benefit. It suggests that about 400,000 employees each year will make a request for time to train under the new right. It is estimated that 300,000 of the requests will be granted.
It seems likely that education institutions will be receptive to proposals encouraging staff to gain qualifications and increase their skills. Now could be a good time, however, to review the extent to which training is available to all academic and, in particular, non-academic staff. If a culture of encouraging training for all staff is embraced, the impact of the proposed legislation is likely to be considerably reduced.