From education to employment

Director of unionlearn writes exclusively for FE News

“I am personally a strong supporter of union learning. It is an excellent way of helping working people to make the most of their talent and demonstrating the relevance of modern unions in the workplace.” It came from the top and for the union learning reps (ULRs) gathered at Westminster last Thursday it was a personal thanks from the Prime Minister for all their hard work. At a reception hosted by unionlearn, our guest of honour the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, John Denham, MP, also played tribute to the work of over 18,000 union learning reps all over the country, calling union-led learning “a fantastic success story, which is making a real difference”. He went on to say that “unions changing lives doesn”t seem to have a shred of exaggeration in it at all.”

Praise indeed and it’s always nice to be recognised. But the real heroes of the story are of course the ULRs ““ and they were out in force on Thursday. They met not only the Secretary of State, but also TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber, MPs and perhaps most importantly, each other. I never fail to be impressed by the personal stories of ULRs (which also feature regularly on the FENews site) and by their enthusiasm and dedication to helping colleagues. Despite some of the barriers they face, such as trying to get release time or cover while they carry out their duties, they are hungry for education for themselves and their workmates. And many of them have progressed within their workplaces, or on to higher education.

So it’s a great chance when we get them all together to celebrate their achievements, because union learning is a partnership between unions, their members, employers and providers, with the Government showing strong support for our ability to reach those who have not traditionally been encouraged back into education.

Someone who left school with no qualifications, but has since become a household name as an author is Gilda O”Neill. She will be telling her inspiring story to union learners at Frizlands Waste Disposal Unit at Barking and Dagenham Council on World Book Day, this Thursday. Also celebrating World Book Day with union learners will be Chris Ryan at Boots Distribution Centre in Greenwich, and rugby international Scott Quinnell, who will be touching down at the Headingley Carnegie ground in Leeds. These authors have all written Quick Reads, books aimed at attracting those who have had difficulties with reading. These books are a great read and many of our learners have got hooked as a result of picking up a Quick Read. With authors such as Gordon Ramsay, Colin Jackson, Josephine Cox and Adele Parks also featuring in this year’s line-up, there’s a book for everyone ““ so let’s celebrate World Book Day on Thursday and spread the reading campaign through Quick Reads.

Liz Smith, Director, unionlearn

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