From education to employment

Unions have a vital role to play in addressing the skills gap

The Skills gap is getting worse in the UK. More and more senior business figures are warning that we do not have a workforce that is equipped to deal with the needs of 21st century Britain. A range of sectors are facing huge difficulties in recruiting and this could have an impact on our competitiveness as a nation and as a result our overall economy.

Unions contribute to skills development in many different ways. Whether it be campaigning to ensure good quality apprenticeships that train the next generation of the workforce, or working alongside businesses to reskill workforces through schemes like the Collective Learning Fund.

It is the value of peer support that makes unions such a vital partner in the learning agenda. Whatever the intention, a management led reskilling programme can lead to insecurity within workforces if there is not a union presence to reassure workers that their interest is being protected and promoted. By working in partnership with management to create a learning experience that benefits both business and workforce, unions play a vital role in turning companies around and ensuring that productivity and morale remain as high as possible.

It is not just in individual workplaces and organisations that unions can play a role in addressing the skills gap. Because unions organise across sectors, they are uniquely placed to spot where the gaps are growing and to campaign to change the industry approach to the skills needed. This is why unions are leading the way in stewarding the green skills agenda. Their role is not just in protecting the workforces they currently represent, but in ensuring Britain has sustainable industries protecting the needs of the workforce of the future.

Unionlearn will continue to campaign together to increase the recognition of the importance of high quality learning experiences for all employees – from apprentices onwards. But it is important to recognise that the impact of this learning agenda has repercussions far beyond the individual learning experiences of the workers. Well managed and good quality training can turn an organisation around, equip a business for the competition we will be facing in the 21st century and create a solid and productive partnership between employees and employers.

It will be this modern, partnership based approach to the skills gap that will equip Britain to succeed through the challenges of the next industrial revolution. We know that our unions are ready and willing to take up the challenge that the skills gap offers them and the country and to work in partnership with government and industry to ensure the UK has a sustainable economy that works for everybody.

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


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