The TUC is calling for an increase in the time made available for training at work, arguing that the UK lags behind other European countries whose workers not only work shorter hours but also have more paid time off to develop their skills.
The comments follow a recent TUC survey of union learning reps, which found that although 70% felt they had made a positive impact on learning in their workplace, the one factor they felt would increase the number of workplace learners was paid time off for learning.
TUC General Secretary John Monks said: "The UK lags behind much of Europe on skills. In most other European countries, employees are able to combine work and training, and get time off to brush up on their skills. In the UK with our long working days combined with family commitments, it's hardly surprising that many workers just can't find the time to study. If employers were to start giving their staff paid time off to train, I'm sure both bosses and workers would begin to reap the benefits almost immediately."
The TUC has published a leaflet recommending that unions and employers should work together to promote learning and promoting the use of a team of union learning reps to support 'reluctant or nervous learners'. It also suggests that unions and employers should think about opening up workplace learning centres to a wider audience such as the family and friends of employees, retired employees or staff at smaller companies nearby, although this may well prove difficult to implement.
The unions have historically taken a proactive role towards encouraging training in the workplace - the TUC has trained some 2,000 union members as learning reps, with the main aim of helping them to encourage as many of their workmates as possible back into learning. In July David Blunkett announced extra funding for 17 new Union Learning Fund projects across the country, offering financial support to trade unions to promote or support learning in the workplace. The TUC also runs its own programme of education for union representatives, towards which the government has agreed to contribute £800,000.