Kevin Rowan, Unionlearn Director

With the unionlearn Annual Conference this July focusing on Apprenticeships as its theme, unionlearn Director Kevin Rowan discusses the ways that unions are supporting high quality schemes in the workplace, and what the plans are going forward.

A recent OECD Skills Outlook report urges the UK to ‘encourage adults to continuously develop and adapt their skills’ so that the country can benefit from participation in global markets. The trade unions know this and they also know that supporting adult learning is vital to ensure working people have a chance to progress at work, get into work and manage change in the workplace and wider society.

Trade unions know this because they actually are supporting learners at work and in the community with innovative and learner-centred approaches. Apprenticeships are very much a priority area of work for current union learning projects and they help employers and workers alike make sense of Apprentice Levy amongst other things. Unionlearn’s annual conference on the 3rd of July celebrates and highlights the union involvement by declaring that ‘Apprenticeships are Union Business’.

Apprenticeship support takes many forms whether the apprentices are young and fresh in the workplace or adults or existing staff members. Unions make headway in challenging gender stereotypes in apprentice recruitment and helping employers think of ways to remove barriers that face Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) and disabled groups. Mentoring young apprentices, supporting older workers and negotiating high-quality Apprenticeships are all on trade union agenda.

To help unions tackle these issues unionlearn has produced a number of helpful resources. The Apprentice Toolkit has been recently updated and the Apprenticeship Levy – 15 useful negotiating tips spells out issues employers and unions need to address when aiming for meaningful and high-quality Apprenticeships which lead apprentices to new skills and better job roles. This is undoubtedly common ground for unions, employers and learning providers too.

Unionlearn conference audience will also see the launch of the Accessible Apprenticeships guide. It will set out the current economic situation for disabled people, the barriers disabled people face, government initiatives to support disabled workers and provides a checklist for reps. The guide also provides good practise case studies on how unions and employers can work together to support disabled apprentices.

While further education data from the DfE tells us that the number of disabled people starting an Apprenticeship has increased from 2005/06 to 2015/16 the increase has actually not mirrored the rapid growth in Apprenticeships among other groups. Considering that the proportion of apprentices classified as disabled fell from 11 per cent to 9.9 per cent during this period it is obvious that employers and unions have a lot of work to do to make sure Apprenticeships are truly accessible.

The OECD 2017 report also mentions that the UK needs to ‘achieve more equity in learning outcomes’. The OECD cites several possible options on achieving more even skills dispersion between individuals, such as the accessibility and quality of work-based learning and training in strengthening links with industry and encouraging ‘active and ongoing engagement of employers and unions at all levels’. Unions have a wealth of experience and knowledge when learner engagement and motivations is concerned which is worth tapping into.

This can only happen if a wide range of stakeholders come together. The first step should be a close look at unionlearn’s Charter for Apprenticeships and consider what the ingredients of high-quality Apprenticeships are.

The Charter highlights that an Apprenticeship should:

  • be a job with a productive purpose
  • be paid a fair rate
  • ensure high quality training and clear individual development
  • involve the trade union at every level of the programme
  • ensure apprentices have regular access to, and support from, trade unions
  • be accessible to, and achievable by all
  • be part of, and contribute to, a Healthy and Safe environment
  • be a commitment from the employer to complement the workforce, not supplement it.

There is a good chance that everyone benefits and learns being part of the triangle of trade unions, employers and apprentices when it is done with true engagement and support.

Kevin Rowan, Unionlearn Director

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page