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As hot as it has been in recent weeks, this did not stop the great and the good from the training / employers partners gathering in their best clothes to find out who had won the coveted awards through their work with Unionlearn.

The awards ceremony, called Business in the Community Awards, was held in the sweltering July heat and played host to a gathering of those businesses to have made a clear commitment to increasing the skills levels of their staff. The winner of the Skills for Life programme award was First Bus UK, who employ a total of 20,300 drivers throughout the country and have provided access to learning opportunities at forty learning centres throughout the country.

Union Learning Reps Lead Charge

The project has benefited, as have many others, from the tireless work of the Union Learning Reps (ULRs) who have supported the programme. The programme has not only provided access to skills and education for many who did not experience education at its best the first time around, the programmes are beneficial to business as well. This can be clearly seen by the saving of at least £2.8 million in recruitment costs through fewer members of staff leaving.

The recognition of the achievements of the First Bus UK programme through the Rentokil Initial Skills for Life Award. The programme included the sponsorship of a book of their own short stories for drivers who may have never written previously. "Business in the Community's Awards for Excellence" offer a prestigious platform for the partner organisations and offer others the chance to learn from some best practices that have worked. The award winners were announced in the presence of HRH The Prince of Wales this year, who was a guest in his role as President of "Business in the Community".

Speaking on behalf of the sponsors of the Skills for Life Award, Henry Chandler, the Managing Director for Rentokil Initial said: "First Bus UK's winning entry shows a genuine and innovative partnership between a company and the Trade Unions. This initiative is being driven highly effectively throughout a large organisation, overcoming challenges of scale, complexity and a diverse workforce. Improved customer satisfaction and retention are just some of the benefits that this solid and sustainable programme is bringing to the business, along with tangible benefits to the learners. (This is)"¦an excellent example that will inspire other employers to take up the Skills for Life offer."

TUC and Unionlearn Building Skills

The awards ceremony represents an opportunity for the broader community to appreciate the hard work being done by ULRs. In 2004-2005 more than 1,600 learning agreements were agreed through the union learning fund with employers throughout the country, funding more than 14,000 ULRs. The upshot of this is the chances provided to the learners, with more than 67,000 a year taking part in learning via the Trade Union Congress" (TUC's) unionlearn programme.

Representing the TUC was Liz Smith, the Director of the TUC's unionlearn programme and a judge on the panel. She said: "The companies shortlisted have clearly experienced the many benefits that union-led learning brings. Employees feel more valued and have improved possibilities for promotion. Staff turnover decreases and morale and productivity go up. In fact everyone wins. This year's shortlist reflected the important role unions are playing in lifelong learning. And it showed the vital role and commitment of union learning reps, who encourage their colleagues to increase their skills levels.

"Unionlearn congratulates these companies for providing learning opportunities for their workers," she concluded. "We are especially pleased that First UK Bus has won the Rentokil Initial Skills for Life Award in recognition of its ongoing commitment to pioneering Learning Centres, and for appointing a Lifelong Learning Manager. There are now over 100 union learning reps at First UK Bus, and this is clearly making a huge difference."

Jethro Marsh

What does the monkey think? Find out in From the FE Trenches!

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