From education to employment

FE gears up for the autumn conference season

Just as the suitcases have been put away after the summer break, they’re back out again to be packed for the autumn conference season, as the political world gets on the move to the cities of Manchester (twice), Liverpool and Birmingham.

It promises to be an interesting time. The Labour Party will announce the result of its election for leader. The Conservative Party will have its first conference since being in power; many of us will be looking for flesh to be added to policies and signs to where the axe will begin to fall. And the Liberal Democrats? Will we hear the first rumbles of discontent from the rank and file to the coalition government?

First: to Manchester for the TUC Congress. Top of the agenda will be the fight against the cuts to public sector jobs, pensions and services. The TUC opposes the coalition government’s timetable for cutting the national deficit, fearing it will lead to a double-dip recession. Unions will be gearing up for a national campaign and local battles on the ground. The teacher unions have motions opposing the planned expansion of academies and “free schools”, cuts to local education authority and FE college budgets and the raising of tuition fees. There will also be a debate about youth unemployment, as the number of young people out of work, education or training remains too close to the one million mark.

Unionlearn’s fringe meeting is titled “Apprenticeships and Equality”. While the TUC supports the expansion of apprenticeships, it is keen to ensure that they include robust training, academic progression and fair pay and conditions. We will be publishing research showing that women are paid on average 21 per cent less than their male counterparts and that only 3 per cent of engineering apprenticeship places are taken up by women. This is an issue we debated with John Hayes, the skills minister, on Radio 4’s Women’s Hour. He agreed that gender pay gap within apprenticeships is something that needs to be tackled. It is an issue we will be pursuing vigorously.

At Manchester, we will also be celebrating our links with local employers and adult education organisations. And we will be using an event at Congress to promote a new partnership we have with UK Online. The aim is to introduce a set of simple-step guides to using computers in all of our 400-plus workplace and community learning centres. There are still 10 million people to whom cyber-space is still a distant galaxy. Unionlearn’s greatest strength is being able to reach those in the workforce who most need help with their learning. The partnership will be getting into gear for next month’s Get online week, (from Oct 18-24). We hope to help 80,000 get online, making it the single biggest digital inclusion campaign in the UK to date.

At the party conferences we will be running joint fringe meetings with City & Guilds on skills, including a breakfast round-table with the Fabians; John Hayes is our guest speaker at the Conservative Party with Demos; and we have a joint fringe with CentreForum at Liverpool with the LibDems. Then, it’s back to London… to face the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Tom Wilson is director of unionlearn, the TUC’s learning and training organisation

Read other FE News articles by Tom Wilson:

How will government encourage employers to train amid funding shortfall?

Has FE met its Prince Charming or Prince of Darkness?

So the cuts begin

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