From education to employment

FE prominent at start of political conference season

Tom Wilson is the director of unionlearn,

The Trades Union Congress opens the political conference season next week with its four day event in Liverpool. And while media will, no doubt, make much of the speeches made by senior politicians, including the Prime Minister, delegates will take time to discuss important issues relevant to FE.

The impact of the recession on education is highlighted in a strongly worded motion from the University and College Union. The motion points particularly to the effects of unemployment on young people and the potential effects on their educational opportunities that might result from the Government’s efficiency savings of £35 billion by 2010/11. And of key importance to the FE sector it calls on delegates to note: “the devastating impact of the recession on further and higher education, with thousands of educators’ jobs cut millions course places slashed and communities devastated”.

Strong words, but backed by a call to campaign for a reversal of Equivalent or Lower Qualification cuts, and proper funding for FE and higher education to provide real educational opportunities for the unemployed. It also highlights the attacks on jobs, pay and pensions of college and university staffs.

For the trade union movement to embrace such issues and respond accordingly will help the sector to find more friends and supporters in wider society. Congress will also debate how the bonus culture undermines the values and commitment of FE staff who are dedicated to public service. Congress will consider a motion from the Association of College Managers rejecting the concept of “demand-led learning” as a sleight of hand. It calls for the “Government to give colleges the flexibility and discretion to respond to local needs”.

Everyone in FE knows the vital role the sector has to play in fighting the recession and helping to create the best circumstances for the recovery. It’s important to highlight the ongoing work to help more young people and adults into apprenticeships. There are now many workplace apprenticeships being encouraged by unions who are using their learning centres to provide FE back up to the on-the-job training.

One recent encouraging example of how unions and employers are working successfully in this area is at Lincoln City Council where they have just taken on three craft apprentices – the first in two decades. The Council’s City Maintenance Services agreed a new scheme, with construction union, UCATT, involved at every stage. The scheme fits well with the Government’s plans to add thousands of new apprenticeships in the public sector. As the Council’s training Coordinator explains: “The apprenticeship scheme not only addresses our requirements, it also aims to offset a regional skills shortage at a time when the construction industry is suffering the effects of the economic downturn”. A fine example of a union, employer and FE provider working together.

Last month I also attended the World Skills reception for the UK’s exceptionally skilled team of 26 young people (including union members) who had been chosen to represent us in Calgary in the skills equivalent of the Olympics. Our team have just returned with three gold, six bronze and 12 medals of excellence. Congratulations to them all – they truly represent the kind of workforce we are all trying to build for the future.

Tom Wilson is the director of unionlearn, which helps unions encourage lifelong learning among members


Read FE News articles by Tom Wilson:

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