From education to employment

Meet this month’s ULR: ‘My enthusiasm for learning just keeps growing’

Every month FE News features the story of one of unionlearn’s union learning reps (ULRs). This month we hear from Zoi Kakouris, lead ULR with Southern Railway.

I trained as a Southern Railway Union Learning Representative (ULR) six years ago and was attracted to this work because it gave me a chance to be part of something that helps people and makes a difference to their lives.
I became Lead Learning Rep in September 2005 and was released for two days a week from my ‘day job’ as a train driver to carry out ULR duties where I worked alongside a project worker. But since July 2007 I have been on full-time secondment covering the project worker’s role and looking after Southern Railway’s ULRs and their training needs. In this role my work ranges from recruiting learners to organising courses and release time for learning, from carrying out assessments to identifying course providers. It’s a two-year secondment and I work from the P2L Office in Lewes as well as travelling Southern’s Network and organising the Learning Centres at Crawley, Croydon, and Brighton stations.
The Brighton Learning centre, as well as regular Skills for Life classes, has held a variety of courses including web design, French, Spanish, Makaton sign language and drop in ‘Stop Smoking’ sessions put on by the NHS. The Learning centre in Croydon has regular IT and Skills for Life classes and is also used for Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) sessions with learners.
Both centres also have a library of language CD Roms which learners can borrow and a book swap club has also been established at Brighton. Our Crawley Learning centre has held French and IT classes and is in the process of organising a Makaton sign language course which we hope to run later this year.
We also have a company learning agreement in place which was signed off by the three Rail unions and the HR Director. Included in the agreement is the commitment to allow two hours paid release a week for Skills for Life learners, as well as the setting up of ULR Forums and a Steering Committee and time off for Reps to carry out their ULR duties.
My own enthusiasm for learning just keeps growing! Through unionlearn and rail union learning I have built up a broad portfolio of skills and expertise. Starting with Basic Skills Training I went on to take a European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) course because I realised I needed more IT knowledge in my ULR role, especially on using Excel and databases. After completing the ECDL I took a course in web design and am now studying for a Level 4 qualification in Information, Advice and Guidance. I cannot praise highly enough the tutors who made these courses so interesting but, best of all I’ve found my new skills really useful at home and at work.
But the courses I’ve taken so far have given me other ideas – maybe I could learn some bricklaying and plumbing! I feel a bit like a sponge – there’s just so much you could learn.
I love seeing the sense of fulfilment and achievement in people who use the learning centres and would welcome more flexibility and ease of access such as ‘roll-on, roll-off’ and mixed ability courses. But, above all, I would like to see even more people making use of what’s on offer through rail union learning.
Zoi Kakouris, lead ULR, Southern Railway

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