A third of British businesses do not offer any training to their workers and almost two fifths of the workforce received no training at all last year, the TUC has warned.
The union body has called for an urgent overhaul of training if Britain is to address the serious skills gaps crippling many parts of the economy.
Those least likely to get trained are in semi-skilled and manual jobs, said the TUC.
Three fifths of professional employees received some form of training in the previous 12 months compared with less than half of employees in manual jobs.
But employers say staff in these jobs have the greatest skills gaps that need to be addressed.
The report also revealed that staff who have a good relationship with their line manager, or who have the confidence to approach them to discuss training needs are more likely to get the training they require.
The TUC warned that a shift of onus from the company to the individual to meet training needs will keep the bulk of training budgets the preserve of the more confident and better-qualified staff.
Sixty two per cent of companies expected the responsibility for training to shift more to the individual employee in the future.
Workers in semi-skilled and manual occupations were much less likely to have an opportunity to discuss their training needs at work than those in higher skilled jobs, it stressed.
Additionally less skilled workers rated the quality of support from their line manager well below workers in white collar jobs.
But the increasingly important role of union learning reps is beginning to break this cycle in many companies, the union body said.
Union learning reps are specially trained union members tasked with helping their workmates take up training courses at work and are helping deliver a fairer share of the training budget.
There are hundreds of training providers delivering thousands of courses in all sorts of different areas.
A company spending just £2,000 could buy one of 4.2 days project management training, 3.3 days financial training for non-financial managers, 3.3 days senior advanced manager training, 1.5 years of a part time degree/HND, 1/6th of an MBA two adults achieving an NVQ level three or 15 people on a three-day quality assurance training, calculated the TUC.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "If individuals are expected to take greater responsibility of their own training needs we will have a situation where whoever shouts the loudest, or knows how the training system works, will get the most out of the training budget.
"This report shows that if businesses really want value for money from their training then they must find out what their staff need.
"Token gesture training for the masses and expensive training for the elite will not address the real problems of workers unable to keep up with the fast changing modern world of business," he added.
He continued: "The trade union movement is leading a quiet revolution at work through the army of union learning reps who are listening to their colleagues and delivering essential skills training, which for many is their first form of training since they left school.
"Managers need to embrace the skills agenda, work with the unions, and deliver training for staff who really need it," he concluded.