From education to employment

Barry Francis, regional manager for unionlearn Southern and Eastern Region, tells FE News about the

Unionlearn in the Southern and Eastern Region of the TUC (SERTUC) covers the Government Office areas of East of England, London, and South East England. Within this geographical area there are over two million members accounting for nearly one third of the TUC membership.

Besides working closely with affiliated trade unions and employers, unionlearn SERTUC also enjoys warm relationships with the three regional Learning and Skills Council, the three regional development agencies, regional representatives of the Sector Skills Development Agencies and Sector Skills Councils, and have partnerships with sixteen providers throughout the country. We regularly hold local forums which get employers, Sector Skills Councils and unions together to explore how they can best work in partnership to improve skills in the region. Successful events have been organised with Lantra, Skills for Logistics, and Skills for Health. These forums have also provided a good platform for promoting the Government’s Train to Gain programme.

Unionlearn SERTUC boasts over 4,000 trained Union Learning Reps (ULRS) helping thousands of workers engage with both lifelong learning and workforce development. Working with trade unions and employers such as Arriva, Metroline, Jewish Care, Marley Eternit, Southern Railways, HM Revenue & Customs and BT, that we are able to offer support to unions and promote the importance of workplace learning. As part of that support, we hold an annual conference which attracts in excess of 350 trade union reps, we organise events on different learning initiatives including Skills for Life, Train to Gain, managing personal finances, and Information, Advice and Guidance.

Many of the ULRs in the region have won awards for their hard work. We were delighted when Nikki Simpson, who was a ULR at Royal Bank of Scotland won the TUC ULR of the Year award last year. Nikki is typical of the very best of our reps, who encourage and support their colleagues to start learning again. She also recruited over a hundred members into her union Unite- Amicus Section and led the way in organising a range of learning events at her workplace. After receiving her award at TUC Congress from the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, she spoke at national conferences and her confidence soared. Another one of our ULRs Graeme Brinded, a CWU member from Norwich, who works for the Royal Mail, has been appointed to the National Learners” Panel to meet with and advise Ministers.

The profile of our work has increased vastly and this year’s line-up of speakers at our conference on November 9th reflects the importance with which our work is being taken. We are welcoming Skills Minister David Lammy, who, as MP for Tottenham, has an insight into the skills crisis in the capital. Best-selling author Adele Parks is also going to speak about her love of writing and the funny side of the everyday scenarios she makes use of in her books. It’s a great occasion to celebrate the work of ULRs and inspire their love of development and learning. With Liz Smith, unionlearn Director, Gail Cartmail, Assistant General Secretary of Unite and Murziline Parchment from the Mayor of London’s Office also speaking, the conference is definitely going to be something of an education!

Unionlearn in the Southern and Eastern region has a rich tapestry of sectors, industries, ethnicities and partners to work with. We have ULRs from a range of backgrounds, who are able to inspire their colleagues, their families and their communities and open up learning to a larger part of society. There is no doubt that learning promotes social cohesion, whether it’s white and blue collar workers on the same course or different communities learning English together. Ultimately this shows the very best of trade union work ““ helping workers to improve their lives and their communities.

Barry Francis, Regional Manager, unionlearn with the Southern and Eastern Region TUC

Related Articles