From education to employment

Liz Smith, director of unionlearn, writes exclusively for FE News

By Liz Smith, Director of unionlearn

Receiving praise in the FE sector from top politicians is as welcome as it is usually rare. But in the past month key government figures have expressed strong support for the work of our Union Learning Reps (ULRs)

And in the case of Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, he certainly put his money where his mouth is. Speaking at the TUC congress last month he announced an increase in the unionlearn administered Union Learning Fund by £3 million, to £15.5 million, from next year. This tribute to the work of ULRs around the country was reinforced when the PM said that union learning is: “the biggest transformation of trades unions since the growth of the shop steward movement”. Personally I might have blushed to have made such a strong assertion, but was delighted to hear it from such a source.

Meanwhile, at our Congress fringe meeting where we launched our report “Time to tackle the training divide”, Bill Rammell, Minister for Lifelong Learning said that ULRs are: “One of the unsung success stories of the last 10 years.” And Skills Minister, David Lammy, told our congress reception that “ULRs are people who make a difference”.

At Labour’s conference John Denham, the new Secretary of State at DIUS added his voice to the chorus backing our work. Mr Denham asked the conference: “Whats most likely to get you to study again? Your best friend saying you can do it! So Im proud our Labour movement has produced 18,000 volunteer Union Learning Reps. Best friends in 6,000 workplaces up and down the country. Thank you.” His statement was met with an outburst of applause.

Following this outpouring of goodwill we are hoping for good news in the Chancellor’s Comprehensive Spending Review this autumn. If so unionlearn and its ability to support unions and ULRs to continue such praiseworthy work will continue into the future.

Interest in the success of union workplace learning has come from across the political spectrum. Recently Conservative MP for Bridgewater, Somerset, Ian Liddell-Grainger, visited learning centres in his constituency at BAe Land Systems, and Argos distribution. He commented: “The quality of the teaching and the dedication of the staff and union reps is brilliant: Im amazed and delighted by what Ive seen ““ its been a complete eye-opener.”

Politicians and trade unionists know very well the importance of energetically tackling Britain’s skills crisis. That’s why they are backing the Government’s Skills Pledge and are encouraged to know that 250 firms have now signed up. The importance of the Pledge and the need for training was starkly revealed last week in a survey by Ernst & Young. The survey revealed that training and development are perceived as more important than salary to todays graduates. The accountancy firm found that 44 per cent of more than 1,000 respondents rated training opportunities highest, while just 18 per cent indicated that salary and benefits were their top concern.

In his speech to Labour’s conference Gordon Brown referred to the aspirations of Britain’s people. He specially mentioned the desire of workers to gain new skills and to progress their careers.

Modern unions are now able to help more and more people to reach their skills goals. And last year 150,000 people went through union organised learning courses. Clearly unions are cutting with the grain of Government, employers” and workers” career and skills objectives.

Liz Smith, Director of unionlearn

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