Union Learning

‘The excitement of learning separates youth from old age. As long as you are learning you’re not old.’

Rosalyn Sussman Yalow US Medical Physicist

As stated by the Government’s Leitch Review of Skills which attempted to look at what skills where needed in the UK in the longer term, “the acquisition of skills is the most important lever within our control to create wealth and to reduce social deprivation”.

In spite of the initiatives introduced by successive Governments, it is accepted much more needs to be done to narrow the divide between the training “haves” and the “have not’s”. The UK is the 24th least equal of the 31 OECD countries (OECD stands for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). This income inequality is linked to the wide disparities in the distribution of qualifications and the assimilation of skills.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) and its Unions have for some time sought to bridge this gap and provide opportunities for those who have had least opportunity in their working lives. They have targeted individuals who may fit the criteria to improve their Skills for Life (i.e. literacy, language and numeracy). Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary said, “Unions are increasingly recognised for their achievements in opening up access to learning for thousands of workers around the country… Learning reaches out to a new generation of members and activists, especially women, people from ethnic minorities and young people.”

Union Learning Reps (ULR’s) can do much to help promote and deliver fairer learning opportunities in the workplace. Some groups of workers have extra difficulty in accessing learning through work – part-timers, shift workers, home workers, freelance and agency workers for example. Others have jobs without a base or obvious focus for learning activity – for example, construction workers and drivers.

As women workers overall are still poorly paid compared with men, access to training – whether at basic or higher levels – can open doors and develop career progression as well as giving individuals a higher level of confidence and self work. Similarly, research has established black and Asian workers are less likely to benefit from opportunities and gain promotion while workers with disabilities are already disadvantaged in the workforce. The stark reality is that difficulties associated with access to learning can make things worse. There are many workers for whom English is a second language and who will be prevented from getting on the skills ladder without proper access to training.

Union Learning Reps (ULR’s)

The role of ULR’s can include signposting a range of courses to members, arranging for college tutors to come to the workplace to deliver learning at a time to suit members’ needs, supporting members with literacy and numeracy needs or running a workplace learning centre etc.

ULRs give employees contact with someone who:

  • They know and who may have helped them in the past
  • Is completely independent, whose advice they can trust
  • They know will treat everything they say in confidence if necessary
  • Can give advice in the familiar surroundings of the workplace
  • Can provide information about learning opportunities, available both inside and outside the workplace
  • Is properly trained and informed, capable of representing their learning needs and interests with their employer
  • Is trained to work with providers of learning to shape the opportunities to meet the needs of workplace learners
  • Provides up-to-date information about learning and skills initiatives from Skills for Life to higher education.

ULRs support learners in diverse ways such as:

  • Enabling learners to access impartial information and advice on their learning needs and options
  • Ensuring that those employees with literacy and numeracy needs receive the encouragement and support required to improve those skills
  • Helping members access ESOL (English language) courses
  • Encouraging those with limited IT skills to take up ICT courses
  • Providing support to employees who may be reluctant to take up new methods of learning such as that provided online
  • NIPSA in conjunction with our sister Union the PCS is developing its Union Learning activities for NIPSA members. In Branch 730 we take Union Learning seriously and we are eager to develop this area of Branch activity.

If you have a query about Union Learning you can contact the following Union Learning Reps in the Branch:

Charlotte Pollock – charlotte.pollock@belfasttrust.hscni.net