From education to employment

Liz Smith from Unionlearn writes her Exclusive column for FE News

Summer’s here at last and it’s always a good time in the education world to take stock of the past year as we gather our energy to renew our onslaught for the next academic year!


Trade union reps, whether they be union learning reps, health and safety reps or shop stewards have by and large had a good year when it comes to education, with a record-breaking year for TUC Education, which has trained over 52,000 workplace reps. This represents more than a doubling in numbers since 1997 (103%) and has been achieved through a network of over 70 partnerships with further education colleges across the UK. So unionlearn’s TUC Education is making sure that workplace reps are accessing quality courses – after all, 13 consecutive Adult Learning Inspectorate Grade 1, outstanding inspection reports can’t be wrong. 


Unionlearn plays a vital role, together with unions, in encouraging and supporting trade union members to take that first step into becoming a workplace rep and we are certainly seeing more women taking part. In fact, we reach one in four of the UK’s 220,000 union workplace representatives and their learning is taken back into workplaces and put into practice for the benefit of their members, employers and local communities. 

As we have seen with union learning reps, this relatively new role has appealed to more women and ethnic minorities, who very often discover a love of teaching as well as learning. Ady Prins, a ULR at The Pl@ce, a learning centre at Royal Mail Chester, graduated from Manchester Metropolitan College, this summer, with a Certificate in Education and he is just one example of reps moving onwards and upwards. There are a range of workplace rep roles to choose from, which include the more traditional and vital roles of shop steward and health and safety reps, but which now embrace environment reps, equality reps and of course learning reps. And trade union members are not lacking in choice when it comes to courses, TUC Education caters for day courses as well as year-long access courses which pave the way for further study. Now reps can take a growing number of courses through our online learning programme. Highly rated by those who have participated so far, this programme extends our learning offer to those who can’t get to a Trade Union Studies centre, or who prefer this way of working. So whatever learners choose to do, they all benefit from that extra knowledge and the confidence at work that it brings. 

This means that the scope for influencing the way that we work and the way we want to work is increasing, as issues such as a fairer society and the environment attract more people into trade union activism, which is reaping greater benefits. But thanks must also go to our partners, without whom, of course, we would not have been able to achieve this success. We have long-standing links with Colleges of Further Education and the Workers’ Educational Association as well as the awarding body, the National Open College Network (NOCN). All parties have delivered quality services to ensure that nothing is too good for the workers.

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