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Liz Smith, Director, Unionlearn

New Year is when we look back on the past year and resolve to do better ““ a bit like looking at an old school report. 2006 was unionlearn’s big launch year and was the year we helped over 100,000 people to access education through their unions. We also continued recruiting union learning reps and broke through the 15,000 barrier. But now is the time to look forward and improve on our last reports, however good we think they are.

It is essential that we continue to put on the pressure to ensure compliance with Lord Leitch’s demand that employers fulfil their responsibilities on training. Leitch took those modern-day Scrooge employers, who do not train their staff, to task. And he got widespread backing for his call for the introduction of legislation in 2010 if employers fail to reach his targets.

Leitch called for employers to make a skills pledge, and the Government has appointed former CBI Director General Digby Jones, on a one-day-a-week contract, as Skills Tsar, to help win them over. If Digby wants some suggestions on how to get effective pledges, then unionlearn is here to help. We suggest that he start by having a look at the 400 learning agreements signed between our unions and employers, which include major companies like First Bus, Northern Foods, Merseytravel and Vosper Thorneycroft.

These partnership agreements are the perfect role model for real and effective pledges. These unions and employers have got together, signed an agreement and are jointly implementing these unique understandings. The importance of independent representation of the workforce cannot be underestimated. The results of such agreements have been real benefits for employers who see skills and productivity levels rise, staff retention improve along with morale, and absenteeism drop; everyone wins. Employees improve their working lives, make progress and are happier, and employers see benefits to their bottom line. In addition the Government, which is increasingly funding employers through Train to Gain, also sees an increase in the national skills pool.

So unionlearn’s New Year resolutions are firstly, to continue to argue strongly that the entitlement signalled in Leitch for individuals right to access paid time off for training to Level 2 (if their employer fails to get on board with an effective pledge), is kept at the top of the agenda. Secondly, to work with unions to highlight the benefits of collective bargaining on training. Thirdly, to strengthen rights for Union Learning Reps ““ because both we, and employers we work with, know that ULRs make a real difference to tackling the skills crisis.

Fourthly, we”re resolving to build and extend our ULR network towards our target of 22,000 by 2010. Which means working with unions to support and encourage learners to become ULRs. Many ULRs have previously been learners and that is why they are really the best people to advise on learning in the workplace.

Finally, there are many people still to be won over to the idea that they could change their lives through learning. In 2007 we want to consolidate on the great start that unions, union learning reps, and learners have made, so that we can get the union learning message out to “the parts that no other education provider has reached”, as it were.

Happy New (learning) Year to you all.

Liz Smith, Director, unionlearn.

Related FE News articles:

Liz Smith on Mondays ““ 04/12/06

Liz Smith on Mondays ““ 06/11/06

Liz Smith on Mondays ““ 02/10/06

“6 Million People Have Literacy Problems” ““ 04/09/06

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