From education to employment

Exclusive: ‘Union learning – get involved’

Liz Smith, director of unionlearn writes her exclusive monthly column for FE News. This month Liz explains how unions are getting involved with Adult Learning Week and Learning at Work Day.

Adult learning has a high profile at the moment and the consultation on informal adult learning has generated fresh debate about how adult learning should be defined and supported, as we read in FE Focus that the number of adult learners outside the Government’s Train to Gain programme continues to decline.
We certainly live in interesting times. In unionlearn we remain convinced about the value of public investment learning in its widest sense – to the economy, employers, communities and individuals. We believe it is central to helping those remaining in poverty in 2008 to raise them out of it so that they can secure a better future for themselves and their families. Bringing that first, second, third or even fourth chance to people is something that unionlearn and union learning reps know all about.
And that’s why we support learning that is flexible enough to meet the needs of the learners – the right sort of learning that fits round their work patterns and suits their preferred style. Our partnership with learndirect has enabled us to do this in a network of centres throughout the country many of them partnerships with FE colleges and unions, which will be re-launched and re-branded this month as U-Net. Our guest of honour will be the Minister for Skills, David Lammy, who will formally launch a new range of materials to help learning centres attract more learners and to raise the profile of the important work the centres are doing.
Two initiatives that union learning centres will be taking part in this month are Adult Learners’ Week (ALW) and Learning at Work Day (LAWD), run by NIACE and Campaign for Learning respectively. Each May the events get bigger and bigger, with more learning centres, workplaces and individuals getting involved every time. Unionlearn’s regions will support hundreds of activities in workplaces throughout England, which, if last year is anything to go by, will bring thousands more people into the learning fold.
The range of workplace activities is really quite stunning. Union learning reps are working with employers to really stimulate interest in learning, which as we know, will ultimately benefit both the employer and individuals. Take Martin Roberts, a Bectu union learning rep at the Princess Theatre in Torquay, who is putting on a pyrotechnics course, or McVities in Manchester, who are holding a LAWD around fire protection in the home with the fire service on-site – they are just two events among hundreds which will bring in new learners. And we cannot underestimate how important it is to continue to try and reach people who have not yet had the benefit of access to education. Research shows that short taster courses really do encourage people to take up a longer course and that’s what Adult Learners’ Week is all about. Whether it’s a launch of quiet rooms in Metroline’s London garages for Quick Reads or unions at Gatwick airport making sure that learning takes off for airport staff, adult learners will have something to celebrate this May.
Liz Smith, director, unionlearn

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