From education to employment

Liz Smith, Director of Union Learn talks Exclusively to FE News

Trade union-led learning not only helps unions to grow, but also brings real benefits to employers, including substantial financial rewards as well as the goodwill of their workforce. Only a true cynic would paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies at this point saying: “but unionlearn would say that wouldn”t they?” Now, however, it is not just unionlearn that is arguing this position, as we have two new academic reports that make these points for us.

This latest research comes in the form of two reports from the universities of Strathclyde, Edinburgh, and London Metropolitan University. They are entitled Union Learning, Union Recruitment and Organising (download details see below) and Organising to Learn and Learning to Organise (download details see below), authored by industrial relations experts and published by unionlearn. The reports show strong links between promoting union-led workplace learning, trade union organising, and direct benefits to employers, workers and their unions. So it’s official, as in many other areas, members of trade unions get a better deal, not only in terms of pay and conditions, but also enjoy better access to learning.

These two reports are the first in a newly-established series of academic reports commissioned by unionlearn. The research highlights the increasingly important role unions play in the workplace through a range of case studies providing practical examples. Unions are, therefore, providing benefits for themselves, and their members, but also for employers.

Such benefits were revealed recently when VT Shipbuilding used the “Phillips Return on Investment (ROI) Methodology” to calculate the monetary value that can be attributed to training in their organisation. This rigorous and data-intensive method revealed that the company made savings of some 140 per cent after taking into account all related costs of training. So employers who are concerned about the costs of training should take note. If you do it properly you can actually make money out of workplace training. In fact you cannot afford not to.

Over the past couple of weeks Gordon Brown has continued to dominate the media, and not least because he presented what is expected to be his last budget. But this budget was special for many reasons, especially for the impact it will have on the FE sector. The Government’s bold vision to create opportunities for young people to continue in education and training, and the commitment to increasing the number of apprenticeships, are bold moves to help tackle the impending skills crisis. But these proposals mean so much more than that. Few investments bear more fruit than equipping our young people with a skill and a sense of achievement early in life.

It was therefore very encouraging to see the commitment to double the number of apprenticeships, which can provide a really firm foundation for young people at the start of their working lives. But it is essential that these opportunities are also made available to those traditionally less-likely to take up apprenticeships, such as women, people form ethnic minorities, and the disabled. There are some employers providing excellent apprenticeship schemes such as BAe Engineering, Merseytravel, VT Shipbuilding and Network Rail. They are all committed to providing high quality training for their young people. They recognise that the future in their well-trained hands.

Liz Smith, Director Unionlearn

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