By Liz Smith, Director of unionlearn

The big question being asked in all sectors and industries today is: which companies will be best placed to emerge successfully from these difficult times? And one answer is clear. It will be those that don’t cut back on their training budgets.

One such company is Nottingham-based Beamlight Automotive Seating, which makes seats for cars and trains. At Beamlight union learning rep training and a desire from management to fully support staff learning needs has brought about a sea change. And the work is going on with the company and its union representatives working in a skills partnership.

Gerry Moran a rep for the union, Community, says that with the support of an enlightened manager work has moved forward. They have a workplace learning centre and a learning agreement is due to be signed. Many of the company’s over 250 workers, who work across a range of jobs from shop floor to office staff, are already benefiting from learning and the company’s general manager presented NVQ certificates to successful learners.

"It’s a working partnership, which has everyone’s agreement," says Gerry. "This is a family-oriented business. We have an older workforce people with some people working here for 30 to 40 years and we want to encourage older people. In addition the learning agreement includes a crucial element to support young and older people through apprenticeships.

"In this modern era we have to work together to ensure the business survives and local jobs are kept here. We would not have achieved what we have if there had been no understanding from management."

And when energy giant E.ON Chief Executive Dr Paul Golby told their union reps that when it comes to learning: "You're pushing at an open door", it delighted Donna Merriman, who is the lead officer for unions Unison, Unite, Prospect and GMB at the company. Donna reports that successful negotiations mean that a learning agreement is about to be signed.

E.ON is made up of a number of businesses and the largest is Retail. This business has a union learning funded project for all staff to access gain level 2 numeracy and literacy. Donna explains: "The company has enabled us to have readily available access to talk to people. They have encouraged and facilitated that work and explored a learning agreement and sought to support the project in any way they can. They realise that learning has an impact on their business in improving literacy and numeracy but also in supporting their agenda that E.ON is a great place to work."

Retail is being used as a pilot and if successful will be rolled out to other businesses, potentially reaching 18,000 E.ON UK employees - from meter readers to power station staff. “I’m extremely excited. It feels really nice to be working with a company that sees the benefits of developing staff and how learning at work benefits both their employees and their customers,” says Donna.

So, as the TUC, CBI, and prominent business leaders have said in an open letter to the press, now is the time to invest in training. Time will prove that those who have heeded these words, will be best-placed to get through hard times.

By Liz Smith, Director of unionlearn

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