Articles from Unionlearn

Unionlearn looks back on a busy 2017

Throughout 2017 staff at unionlearn pulled out all the stops to make it one of its busiest years to date. The year was full of campaigns, events and the launch of new resources aimed at supporting workplace learning across the country.

Apprentices must be valued to protect the brand

As the adult learning community was coming to terms with the implications of the Richard Review, unionlearn have been listening to apprentices, to find out what makes them feel valued.

Unions are the perfect stewards of the Green Skills Agenda

Green skills will be essential to growing the UK economy sustainably. Developing the skills needed in every area of our industrial life will be a vital part of modernising the British economy. It will be essential to ensuring that UK Plc is fit to compete with the emerging BRIC economies as well as the powerhouses of China, India and the USA.

Prison educators and FE workers suffer above-average stress

A survey published today by the University and College Union has found the stress levels of further education staff exceed the averages for British workers on several key measures. The report used the methodology of a survey devised by the Health and Safety Executive, which analyses stress amongst the general population. The findings of Tackling stress in Further Education showed further education workers felt more stressed in all areas in comparison to the national population. These areas included: how change was handled at work; their understanding of their role at work; and the demands made upon them. Sally Hunt, UCU General Secretary, said: "Our members in further education have worked in an environment of continual change where there is barely time to consolidate one new policy before the next comes along. This survey clearly shows this is the root cause of a great deal of stress. "The economic downturn looks set to herald more change as further education will be at the heart of responses to increasing levels of unemployment. UCU members will need to be more flexible and committed than ever. This survey suggests some practical and simple solutions which would greatly improve working lives and so help FE rise to the challenge of recession. We call on those in charge to act on its findings." These suggestions included improving the physical environment, increasing autonomy, reducing paperwork and monitoring, more flexible working and better management of change. A separate report, Tackling Stress in Prison Education, revealed even higher levels of stress than FE workers for all seven key areas, compared to the national averages. This time, areas with the biggest discrepancies included: how change was handled at work; managerial support; and relationships at work. Of those teaching in prisons, 82.8 per cent reported 'always', often' or 'always' experiencing levels of stress at work that they deemed unacceptable. Four-fifths 'agreed' or 'strongly agreed' with the statement: "I find my job stressful". Almost 62.1 per cent also reported 'high' or 'very high' general levels of stress. Ms Hunt added: "Our members working in prisons are right at the bottom of the pile yet they do a vital job to keep society safe by reducing reoffending. It is no surprise that they cite the management of change as a major source of stress: constant retendering of prison education contracts has meant as many as five changes of management in the past 15 years for some of our members. Prison educators desperately need stability."

Skillset and Open University also awarded

UNISON, the Open Unversity and Skillset were amongst the recipients of a unionlearn Quality Award this week. The awards were made at a reception held to celebrate the work of over 18,000 union learning reps throughout the country.

UCU backs green awareness across all college courses

The University and College Union (UCU), which represents lecturers and other academic staff in colleges and universities, said it would be seeking ways of working with colleges and universities to promote greater understanding of environmental concerns such as climate change.

Tax relief not reaching most effective work-related courses

More than £5 billion was shelled out last year by the exchequer in tax relief for work-related training. That is the equivalent to the turn-over of more than 250 FE colleges. But as a forthcoming research paper by Howard Reed of Landman Economics, commissioned by unionlearn, shows, there is little to show that this vast sum is focused on the most effective training courses nor is it reaching those who most need it. The £5bn vastly out-shadows the £800 million annual budget of Train to Gain, the scheme which provided businesses with training subsidies, until it was abolished in the October 2010 Spending Review. The scheme was scrapped because of "dead weight costs", ie companies being subsidised for training they would have carried out anyway and, as the Public Accounts Committee found, for failing to target the sectors with the highest needs and the providers providing the best quality training.Yes, Train to Gain did have its faults, but it did make a substantial contribution to work-related training. Apart from commitments (without detail) in the Spending Review to "explore mechanisms to increase employer contributions such as training levies" we still need a strategy for growth which tackles head on the two main problems with the UK's provision of work-related training: that a third of employers provide no training at all and that those who receive the most training are those who are already the best qualified.That is why unionlearn's paper concludes that there are very strong grounds for reforming the tax relief system by making it more progressive – targeting the low-paid and low skilled – and more focused on high returns by restricting training to that which leads to qualifications (or accredited CPD).Tax relief on training is available to only companies which pay corporation tax (just over 900,000 businesses with 8.3 million staff). However, there is no attempt to target tax relief on particular kinds of training, or particular types of trainee. This makes it a relatively expensive way of encouraging the particular types of training which policymakers might see as the most beneficial.

Preparing for a tough 2011

As a TUC colleague said, who would have guessed this time last year that we would have a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, Ed Miliband would be Labour leader and that Spurs would be in Europe in the Champions League.Yes, it is a brave person who feels they can be confident about their predictions for 2011.What I do know is, that unionlearn will still be in business promoting learning to the disadvantaged in the workplace, working with colleges and employers to promote high quality apprenticeships and developing, with employers, high performance working practices building upon the talent and creativity of their staff.The publication of the skills and schools White papers, also give us some idea of the direction of policy and we await the Wolf review on vocational education. My concern is that it would have made more sense to have had the review first, so that vocational education will not become a bolt-on to the main picture. What we need is an integrated system, giving young people a broad curriculum and offering them a choice of the academic and the practical.Another concern is that Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, seems to be favouring end-of-course examinations to the modular approach which particularly favours people who have work and other commitments. Kathleen Tattershall, the former head of Ofqual, said at a conference at London University's Institute of Education, that it made her very cross when modular systems are equated with being easier. I agree with her that modular examinations have opened up learning to new groups of learners and have been a success. Let's hope that John Hayes, the minister whose brief straddles the departments of education and business, can ensure that policy is joined up.We at unionlearn will also be taking up with Mr Hayes and his colleagues the parts of their skills strategy which talk about the use of regulatory levers to influence employer investment, such as licence to practice and training levies, both very welcome approaches. If we are to drive up standards and improve skills in these finance-straitened times then employers need to play their part. In 2011, we will build upon pilot projects that have encouraged co-investment in training. The development of green skills is also very much on our agenda for the coming year. The White paper was light on detail in this area; but it is vital to have a strong skills strategy in this emerging part of the economy.All of the above, comes with the background of major cuts, with FE college budgets being squeezed by 25 per cent and HE by a massive 40 per cent, over the next three years. Next year will be when the coalition government's cuts to councils, resulting in the loss of jobs and vital services, will hit home. This presents challenges for working people and means that unionlearn will have to redouble its efforts in offering support to those who need to upgrade their skills.We will be rolling out two major campaigns, both joint initiatives with partner organisations. The first Maths4Us is aimed at helping people improve their numeracy and the second Go on: Get online, get a Lifeline is aimed at the 9 million people who do not have the knowledge needed to have access to the internet.All in all, I don't think I am sticking my neck out too far by predicting that 2011 will be a tough year for us all.Tom Wilson is director of unionlearn, the TUC's learning and training organisation

How will government encourage employers to train amid funding shortfall?

As the schools finish for the long six-week break and everyone starts to head off to the seaside or sunnier climes, it’s that time of year again for a bit of reflection.

The most progressive employment programme for a generation - So the cuts begin

With the department for Business, Innovation and Skills taking one of the biggest hits with its contribution of £836 million towards the £6 billion plus required by the Chancellor, what does it mean for education and skills?

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