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1. What is union learning?


2. Evaluating union learning


3. Union learning pays off for learners


4. Union learning pays off for employers


5. Union learning pays off for unions


6. The future development of unionlearn


Acknowledgements This summary is based on the evaluation of unionlearn and the ULF (Rounds 8–11) led by Professor Mark Stuart and supported by Jo Cutter, Hugh Cook and Professor Jonathan Winterton, Centre for Employment Relations Innovation and Change, University of Leeds. Dr Kris Chapman from the sponsoring Department for Business, Innovation and Skills provided valued support throughout the process. The full evaluation report, the follow-on study report and the case studies are on the unionlearn website

FOREWORD TOM WILSON Considerable union and government resources have been invested in unionlearn’s activities since it was launched in 2006 by the TUC to provide a robust framework for union-supported learning. That is why the TUC commissioned the Centre for Employment Relations Innovation and Change at Leeds University Business School to evaluate its outcomes and achievements. This publication offers an easy-to-read, accessible summary of the evaluation, gathering together the findings into three main sections, showing how union learning pays off for individuals, for employers and for unions. It also includes some reflections on the future work of unionlearn and the Union Learning Fund (ULF). The evaluation is the most extensive and in-depth assessment of union learning ever. Over the years there has been much anecdotal evidence on the benefit of union learning but this evaluation provides robust analysis that demonstrates its added value. The evaluation concludes that “union learning has largely met its stated objectives and has delivered demonstrable benefits for learners, employers and unions”. Recognition of its impact has continued with the election of the new government. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) described unionlearn as a “powerful model” for opening learning opportunities to individuals that they never would have had the chance to take up. After the Comprehensive Spending Review, BIS announced it would continue funding unionlearn at the same level in cash terms as the previous year – testimony to the value of unionlearn as evidenced by the evaluation. A key component of unionlearn is the Union Learning Fund, which has enabled union-led projects to help individuals access more than 600,000 learning opportunities since it was established in 1998. Much of the evaluation measured the impact of Rounds 8–11 of the ULF (Round 8 starting in 2005/6 and Round 11 in 2008/9), finding that the projects the Fund has

supported have had considerable impact on individuals, unions and employers. But there are barriers to maximising the effectiveness of the projects. The biggest hurdle is securing time for learning from employers or for learners themselves to make time available. This can be addressed by unions securing more formal learning agreements providing paid time off for employees to study and by employers providing cover for union learning reps (ULRs) while they carry out their duties. There is, however, strong evidence that these positive outcomes will be sustained in the future. The findings suggest that employers have, to some extent, ‘bought’ the added value that union learning can offer them. The challenge for the future, therefore, is to extend this good practice into more workplaces through the continued government funding for unionlearn and increased support from unions and employers. The evaluation report made important recommendations on a range of issues: some of these are now being implemented, with others being considered in the restructuring of unionlearn.

Tom Wilson, Director, unionlearn

‘The evaluation is the most extensive and in-depth assessment of union learning ever’

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SUMMARY Union learning activity In total, £121m has been dispersed over Rounds 1–11 of the ULF, of which £101m was distributed to fund innovative union projects that help members into learning. There has also been a reported additional £52m of levered-in funds. To date, union-led projects have helped unions to support some 603,775 learning opportunities, sign 1,557 learning agreements with employers, establish 847 learning centres, and support some 22,000 union learning representatives (ULRs), who were trained by TUC Education. Across Rounds 8–11 specifically, 420,000 learning opportunities were accessed through the union learning route, a notable increase on previous years. Much of the learning activity is additional and offers a range of progression routes. In addition to specific learning outputs, the ULF has encouraged unions to develop national learning strategies.

Jess Hurd/

Employer outcomes Four in ten employers involved in union learning that were surveyed made a direct funding contribution to learning. Around three-quarters of continued projects achieved more than 100 per cent of their target for levering in funding. All employers made a contribution through time off for ULRs. Many, but not all, provided time for learners and support for workplace learning committees with management time. Employers reported improved take-up of job-related training (four in ten employers); improved qualification levels of employees (just over half); enhanced equality of access to learning and training (just over half); and fewer skills gaps (just under half). Employers also mentioned a range of business benefits, mainly in terms of improved operating measures. Four in ten employers reported that both a learning agreement and a workplace structure such as a joint learning committee had been developed to oversee the development of learning. Learning agreements were


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consistently associated with higher levels of reported learning and business outcomes. Employers and unions reported a positive impact on union-employer relations on learning and wider union-management relations. Learner inclusion Union learning has resulted in accredited learning opportunities for learners with few or no formal qualifications. Successive learning activity has led, for a significant minority of learners (around one-third), to an increase in qualification level. The focus of achievement, in terms of qualification gain or skills uplift, has been targeted at those with lower prior levels of qualification. ULRs were a key factor in engaging learners, as was the location of learning at the workplace to help reduce barriers to access. Union learning was successful in engaging learners from groups traditionally under-represented in adult learning, notably older male workers, those working in process operative occupations and those from lower socio-economic groups. Learners reported improved work skills. Employers recognise this through the provision of paid time off for learning, equating to an estimated ÂŁ193 per learner.

Estimates of the additional economic value generated by those increasing their qualification levels (Gross Value Added) were ÂŁ3,113 for those attaining up to Level 2 and ÂŁ1,090 for those moving up to Level 3, with relatively low deadweight. Barriers and challenges in the delivery of learning The main barriers identified by the union project officers (UPOs) working on ULF projects concerned securing time off for learning from employers, for learners themselves to make time available, time pressures on ULRs and finding time for learners to undertake training. There were general constraints reported in terms of encouraging interest and support from employers and, specifically, related to the signing of formal learning agreements with them. Union learning aimed to address the barriers that learners faced, such as the cost of, time for and confidence in learning, and there was evidence that many projects were successful in addressing these issues. However, barriers to learning were evidenced notably through increased costs of learning (i.e. a reduction in the level of public subsidy available).

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Additionality Over two-thirds of UPOs appeared to be satisfied with the success of their ULF projects, with 36 per cent stating that their ULF projects had exceeded the objectives and a further 14 per cent and 18 per cent respectively stating that they had been either fully or adequately met. In terms of added value, 76 per cent reported that a needs assessment would not have taken place without ULF funding. Almost six in ten UPOs reported that the same learning would have taken place but with fewer learners, while 44 per cent stated the quality of learning would have been poorer in the absence of ULF support, and just 12 per cent reported that the same level of learning would have taken place. Union learning did not substitute for employer training, as employers had not previously been offered this type of training.

Sustainability Those employers that have benefited from the ULF have, to some extent, ‘bought into’ the added value that union learning can offer. Nearly nine out of ten employers stated that they would continue to be involved with union learning activities. Employers saw union learning as a benefit, with 63 per cent stating there was a benefit to the organisation and 81 per cent that there was a benefit to individuals taking part. Nine in ten stated that unions should continue to develop their role in the learning agenda. Different models of sustainability were emerging and were documented as good practice in the case studies, including ULR networks, formal committee structures to embed learning and ongoing employer support for workplace learning centres. The propensity to lever in funding is a key factor in sustaining learning activity, and almost three-quarters of UPOs in the follow-on survey reported that they had exceeded their anticipated targets for additional funding. Such funding is most likely to be drawn down through partnerships involving unions, employers and providers. Central to sustainability was not just the necessary financial investment from employers but also the wider goodwill and trust created with regard to management– union relations. Where unions had established learning agreements with employers, this was associated with fewer cutbacks in training. Unionlearn added value Union learning was seen by stakeholders to have met or exceeded the challenges set in terms of funding for learner targets. Regional funding partners noted that union learning was perceived as being good value for money as a route to learner and employer engagement. Stakeholder partners were generally very positive about working with unionlearn. The main benefit was


unionlearn adding value

‘Union learning has largely met its stated objectives and delivered demonstrable benefits for learners, employers and unions’

Grant Lynch

understood to be in terms of the shared agenda around improving quality and equality of access to learning for working people. The delivery of successful union learning projects led to increased trust and legitimacy between unions and other partners in the learning and skills infrastructure. Regional funding bodies contracted with unions because they opened a route to learner and employer engagement and were perceived to offer good value for money. Unionlearn was seen to have a unique role within the learning and skills infrastructure, inputting into the skills strategy at the national level and at the operational level through the delivery of learning and workplace programmes. The governance of the union learning agenda was seen to have improved greatly with the creation of unionlearn, helping to build legitimacy within the union movement. Overall, union affiliates were generally very satisfied with the support received from unionlearn. Key areas for improvement were coordinating ULR training and development and improving the coordination between national strategy and regional level operations in order

to bring more coherence to support for affiliates. In the follow-up survey, the extent of continued activity in respect of ULR initial and follow-on training seemed to be running above the level of reported demand. Conclusions The evaluation of the impact of the ULF and unionlearn was positive. Union learning has largely met its stated objectives and delivered demonstrable benefits for learners, employers and unions. The evaluation recommended continued support for ULF and unionlearn; the need to embed union learning more centrally in the adult learning and skills policy agenda; and that unionlearn develop its strategic capacity. It also emphasised the need to implement further improvements in data collation, monitoring and storage. The evaluation additionally recommended further consolidation of union learning with employers and within individual union structures.

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1. WHAT IS UNION LEARNING? The previous Labour government saw upskilling the workforce as a “natural partnership” between unions and employers. Both government and unions recognised that if unions were to become a key partner then they required a supportive framework. Over the past decade this has been built on three key components: ■ the Union Learning Fund, created in 1998 ■ union learning reps, granted statutory rights in 2003 ■ unionlearn, established in 2006. These components have continued to be supported by the new government. Union Learning Fund Now in its 14th round, government annual grant to the ULF has increased from £2m in Round One to £15.5m in Rounds 8–11, and the size and nature of the projects it has funded have developed as a result. Early projects tended to be small, typically based in specific workplaces or locally focused, with the maximum award in Round One just £79,000. More recent projects have tended to support wider capacity-building efforts, engaging a wide range of employers and other stakeholders and typically nationally focused, with the maximum award in Round 11 having a contracted value of over £1 million. The first 11 rounds of the ULF supported 522 projects, with a contracted ULF budget of more than £121.1 million, supporting projects by 57 individual trade unions as well as TUC-led projects, creating 603,775 learning opportunities and training 22,009 ULRs. Costs per learner have been dramatically reduced; taking a three-year running average, the cost per learner has been cut from £580 per annum over Rounds 1–3 to £142 per annum over Rounds 9–11, an impressive improvement in terms of return on investment.


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Union learning reps ULRs have been crucial to the development of union learning, spreading the word about the opportunities available, encouraging their colleagues to take part in workplace courses and building strong partnerships with local providers. Their numbers and their contributions have grown considerably since they were granted statutory rights in 2003, and at the time of the evaluation TUC Education has trained more than 22,000 ULRs. Under the legislation, ULRs are granted reasonable paid time to train and to undertake their duties, while employees also have the right to talk to their ULR. However, ULRs do not have a statutory right either to consult or to negotiate with their employers. Unionlearn Unionlearn is the TUC’s learning and skills function hat develops strategic activity linked to national skills strategies, using the ULF to steer the direction of union learning activity to the changing requirements of the wider economy. Unionlearn provides a strong central union lead through its national and regional offices, and passes around 85 per cent of its total income (which stood at £28.4m in 2008/9) to affiliate unions to deliver learning projects, largely under the ULF.

2.EVALUATING UNION LEARNING Following a competitive tendering exercise, unionlearn commissioned the Centre for Employment Relations Innovation and Change (CERIC) at Leeds University Business School to evaluate the impact of unionlearn and Rounds 8–11 of the ULF (covering the period from April 2005 to March 2011).

The evaluation is the most extensive conducted to date and draws on a rich variety of data sources to present the most detailed picture so far of how union learning is helping employers and employees work together on learning and skills.

■ It includes an analysis of 11,166 learner records This was the first systematic evaluation of unionlearn’s activities and the ULF’s operation under its jurisdiction, and it was particularly concerned to address the methodological difficulties and data limitations of previous evaluations (York Consulting had evaluated Rounds 1, 2, 3 and 4–7 on behalf of the government).

The evaluation aimed to: ■ evaluate the operation of unionlearn in totality in relation to its strategic plan ■ assess the added value of unionlearn and the ULF in both quantitative and qualitative terms.

in relation to demographics, learning type and learning progression to help unions identify where improvements to facilitate improved member access to learning could be made. It presents the first detailed analysis of the coverage, scope and content of 281 learning agreements – the largest analysis to date. It includes 15 detailed case studies (the qualitative component of the evaluation) that explore what works in practice, identify barriers to participation and investigate sustainability. It uses material from original in-depth telephone surveys of 84 union project officers (UPOs) running ULF projects (86 per cent response rate) and 415 employers involved in ULF and other union learning activity (43 per cent response rate). It offers insights from external sources gleaned from semi-structured interviews with 16 stakeholders including unions, partner organisations such as sector skills councils and the government.

A follow-up survey of UPOs, conducted to measure sustainability as demonstrated in Rounds 8–10 of the ULF projects (all of which have been completed), achieved a high response rate of 81 per cent and reported high levels of ongoing union learning activity.

Grant Lynch

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Although samples sizes and responses rates were larger that for previous evaluations, the evaluation did face difficulties in identifying with precision the population parameters for some of the data sources, notably the learner survey, the employer survey and the content analysis of learning agreements. The application of some of the data to a wide variety of settings needs, therefore, to be treated with caution. However, the degree of triangulation of data, from many different data sources, permits confident generalisation, in a qualitative and thematic sense, about the activities of union learning. Overview of Rounds 8–11 More than 420,000 learning opportunities were accessed during Rounds 8–11 (close to the target figure) but there were considerable variations within the various programmes (see Table 1 below).

Table 1: ULF projects Rounds 8–11: selected outputs Outputs Number of learners achieving NVQ Level 3* Number of learners achieving NVQ Level 2* Existing learning centres enhanced Information, advice and guidance referrals Learning opportunities accessed New learning centres opened Written partnership agreements with providers Number of learners achieving NVQ Level 1* ULRs completing initial training ULRs completing follow-on training Formal learning agreements signed with employers

While the numbers of NVQ Level 2 and 3 learners achieving qualifications overwhelmingly exceeded their targets, the numbers of Level 1 learners achieving qualifications, ULRs trained and learning agreements signed were much lower than anticipated. The most common theme projects addressed across all the rounds was ULR support and development (it was also rated the most important by the UPO survey), while skills for work, including Skills for Life, were also frequently addressed. In Rounds 8 and 9, working with employers on partnership approaches to learning was a key theme, while progression, professional development and supporting sector-based union initiatives were important themes of Rounds 10 and 11.

Profile total 3,316 8,850 457 112,613 436,381 426 529 5,053 16,447 8,428 1,413

Source: ULF database – Round 8 (April 2005–March 2009); Round 9 (April 2006–March 2009); Round 10 (April 2007–March 2010); Round 11 (April 2008–March 2011). * not Round 11


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Actual total 5,865 12,828 536 111,637 421,126 375 459 3,334 8,307 4,333 719

Achieved (%) 177 150 117 99 97 88 87 66 51 51 51

3. UNION LEARNING S R E N R A E L R O F PAYS OFF In addition, while 29 per cent of the UK workforce has qualifications below Level 2, that figure rises to 50 per cent of ESF project learners and 70 per cent of U-Net learners (see Table 2 below).

“I passed maths and English courses a year ago and now I am doing the Performing Manufacturing Operations NVQ: it gives me more confidence in work and in my non-working life.” Union learner, Chamberlin plc, Walsall, West Midlands

A key measure of the success of union learning is the extent to which it is encouraging union members to take up learning opportunities, especially those who would not otherwise have done so. Union learning has a wide reach Given that the management information data is from U-Net union learning centres and European Social Fund (ESF) projects and the survey of learners is small and non-randomly sampled, any generalisations for union learners as a whole should be treated with appropriate caution. Nevertheless, according to the data available union learning is successful in engaging learners from groups traditionally under-represented in adult learning. For example, learners in the 45–64 age group comprise 25 per cent of adult learners as a whole (NIACE Adult Learners Survey), but make up 43 per cent of learners supported by ESF projects and 53 per cent of learners in U-Net centres.

Union learning is also successfully targeting people who have not recently been involved in education or training and are not confident about taking part in courses. While one in ten adult learners as a whole say they are not confident learners, four in ten union learners describe themselves in those terms and over half have not taken part in education or training in the previous three years. Union-led learning tends to be highly inclusive, with 89 per cent of projects opening their activities to all employees, not simply union members, and more than two in five projects targeting a specific ethnic, minority or migrant worker group as part of their activities to raise demand for learning. Union learning is not only attracting people who would not otherwise participate in learning: it is also carrying relatively low deadweight (i.e. people who would have taken another route if union learning were not available). While learning and skills public policy programmes carry an estimated average level of 45 per cent deadweight, union learning programmes carry under 25 per cent. This was as low as 12 per cent as reported by UPOs.

Table 2: Qualification levels of union learners (percentage) Previous qualification level U-Net ESF-supported Learner learners learners survey

UK workforce office for National Statistics

Below Level 2 Level 2 Level 3+

29.0 20.0 51.0

70.4* 13.7 15.9

50.0* 20.6 29.3

44.2* 26.0 39.4

Source: U-Net MI data 2006–2010, base: 5,898; unionlearn ESF learner data 2008-2010, base: 5,268; learner survey, base: 230; ONS data. * The difference in proportions of union learners with previous qualification below Level 2 and those below Level 2 in the UK workforce average is significant at 1 per cent level (Chi Squared).

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Two-thirds of union learners responding to the learner survey were motivated by improving their confidence at work; over three-quarters were motivated by learning new skills for a current or future job; and eight in ten said personal interest and enjoyment was a significant factor. Fewer than one in ten was motivated by the threat of redundancy, and increasing earnings potential was not a strong motivating factor either.

Jess Hurd/

Workplace partnerships overcome barriers to participation Overcoming initial suspicion of union leaning remains a challenge, especially where personal development and engagement with learning have yet to take root in the workplace culture.

Union learning also helps people improve their job skills and employability. Just under two-thirds (63 per cent) of union learners say they do their jobs better as a result of their learning and the same figure say their learning has improved their job prospects. However, time remains the biggest obstacle preventing individual participation – it was identified as a large or very large barrier by over half the respondents to the UPO survey. Union learning promotes progression Learner progression on to further study is a key indicator of the effectiveness of union learning.

But joint work between management and unions can be effective in overcoming barriers rooted in people’s lack of confidence in their own abilities and their fear of negative perceptions about taking time off to learn.

Nearly nine out of ten ESF project learners have undertaken more than one ‘learning episode’, with the median among the 2008–2010 cohort standing at 2.1 and the maximum by a single individual as high as 11.

“I really enjoyed the course. I am glad I took part and completed it: I surprised myself that I got Level 2 – when I started, I wasn’t clear how difficult it was going to be, so I was really chuffed to pass,” says one union learner, who continued:

However, while the incidence of multiple learning episodes shows union learners are often repeatedly engaged in learning, progression from one type or level of learning to another is what is more significant – and the majority of union learners have taken part in more than one type of learning (including information, advice and guidance sessions).

“I got support from the ULRs to get involved and the ULR was great in helping us with the homework – printing off test papers and exercises. I also have a good manager who encouraged me to go so, even though it had been agreed that we’d get the time off, I didn’t feel bad about leaving work early to attend.”


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Of the one-third of union learners who have progressed, half of them improved on existing qualifications by one level, almost half improved by two levels and almost one in ten by three levels.

Union learners tend to have such positive experiences of learning that they wish to continue their learning journeys: more than eight in ten union learners want to take part in more union learning in future – with union members from lower socio-economic groups and working in caring and service occupations most likely to want to continue. And union learners are clear about whom to credit for their progress: almost all of those increasing their qualification level credited union learning, and threequarters of people who have changed their job or boosted their wage levels acknowledge the part union learning has played. Since the skills uplift achieved by moving up to Level 2 is equivalent to 15 per cent of salary, and the average earnings of union learners surveyed who moved up to Level 2 was £20,757, that means every union learner who moves up to Level 2 creates an estimated £3,113 Annual Gross Value Added.

CASE STUDY Making time to learn At Warburtons Family Bakers in Stockton, the main challenge for the bakers’ union BFAWU was persuading line managers and team leaders of the benefits of granting staff time off production to learn. The learning agreement enables each individual to take 15 hours’ time off annually for Skills for Life learning, but common practice had evolved that the company would match every hour of their own an individual committed to learning with an hour of paid time to learn. While most line managers supported requests for time to learn and coped with staff absence because of learning’s positive effect on performance and motivation, some team leaders argued they could not spare individuals off production. The onsite ULRs overcame this resistance by showing team leaders what people were achieving and what they could achieve through union learning.

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4. UNION LEARNING PAYS S R E Y O L P M E R O F F F O “From a performance point of view the scheme has been invaluable – we can’t praise it enough.” Bombardier Transportation production director

Union learning initiatives have made a range of positive impacts across learning and organisational practices, with the greatest impact in workplaces covered by a learning agreement. Union learning pays off for business Union learning has increased equality of access to learning and training qualifications in 56 per cent of workplaces (in 65 per cent of those with a learning agreement); boosted the number of employees attaining qualifications in 55 per cent of workplaces (in 70 per cent of those with a learning agreement); and addressed skills gaps in 54 per cent of workplaces (in 68 per cent of those with a learning agreement) (see Table 3 below). Union learning activity is also generating increased investment in learning and training by employers. Four out of ten employers provide financial contributions to union learning, with an average investment of £23,000 from those that put a figure on that contribution.

Employers are most likely to make in-kind contributions, including: equipment (69 per cent); office space (71 per cent); learning centres (52 per cent); ULR time (77 per cent); management time (58 per cent); and employee time (73 per cent). Taking part in union learning also makes people more likely to participate in employer training and encourages greater take-up by members of lower socio-economic groups. Just over four in ten union learners (42 per cent) reported that as a result of their union learning experience they had taken part in more training provided by their employer that would have otherwise been the case. People more likely to increase their participation are members of lower socio-economic groups and people who hadn’t taken part in training at work in the three years before they started union learning. Learning has persisted through the downturn Employers have approached their learning and training commitments in a variety of different ways in response to the recession, a recession that has reduced sales and led to staff layoffs in four out of ten employer survey respondents.

Table 3: Employer views on impact of union learning (percentage) Indicators Increased Equality of access to learning/training opportunities 56 (65)* Number of employees attaining qualifications 55 (70)* Addressing skills gaps 54 (68)* Consultation on learning/training issues 46 (59)* Positively addresses basic skills gaps 46 (58)* Level of trust between management and unions 42 (53)* Staff morale 42 (52)* Take up of job-related training 41 (52)* Source: Employers’ survey (figures in brackets relate to where there is a learning agreement) * significant difference to overall percentage, base: 415 responses.


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No change 43 44 42 54 39 54 56 59

Decreased 1 1 3 0 16 4 3 0

Table 4: Training and the recession – employer views (percentage) Training/organisational issues Increased Joint working with unions 30 (38) Employee demand for learning 28 (36) Organisational support for union learning activity 27 (38) Job-related training 19 (22) Spending on training 13 (17)

No change 68 64 68 70 59

Decreased 2 8 5 11 29

Source: Employers’ survey (figures in brackets relate to where there is a learning agreement), base: 415 responses.

While levels of job-related training have dropped by 11 per cent and spending on training has decreased by 29 per cent, there is also evidence of investment; spending on training has increased at 13 per cent of workplaces and job-related training expanded at 19 per cent (see Table 4 above). In addition, 28 per cent of workplaces have seen increased employee demand for training, as staff have sought to enhance their employability in an era of economic uncertainty and individual insecurity. A number of employers clearly believe unions have a role to play in helping organisations prepare for economic recovery. Joint working between management and unions as a result of the recession is increasing at 30 per cent of workplaces (and at 38 per cent covered by a learning agreement), while organisational support for union learning activity has increased in more than a quarter of cases (27 per cent). In addition, unions are logging increased employee demand for learning, with almost three-quarters of UPOs noting members are keener to improve and expand their knowledge and skills (see Table 5 on page 17).

CASE STUDY Responding to recession Some employers have been able to use the downtime created by the economic downturn to boost participation in workplace learning as part of their preparation for better times. At Chamberlin & Hill, which manufactures small to medium-sized steel castings in the heart of the Black Country, the impact of the recession was immense. “Everything just dropped off a cliff,” says the operations manager, and the company was forced to reduce production from 5.5 days per week to 3 days per fortnight. But the foundry used the downtime to encourage more of its 120 employees through the learning programmes available at the on-site learning centre it had opened in partnership with Unite and Dudley College. Now back to full capacity, the company has secured major German automotive clients thanks to its improved quality and efficiency. “Union learning has really helped us come through the recession and put us in a better position to move forwards,” says the Chamberlin & Hill managing director.

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Employers back union learning The employers survey shows that in general employers have recognised the added value union learning can offer them, so much so that a large minority of employers (43 per cent) plans to continue with union learning and a large minority forecasts union learning would continue even without external funding such as the ULF (see Table 6 opposite). The follow-on survey of UPOs, however, found that over four in five (84 per cent) felt that any ending in government financial support for union learning would diminish its sustainability. But this is more than a matter of pledges and promises: management support has continued to develop after the end of projects in Rounds 8–10, with ongoing senior management support and increased levels of consultation and negotiation on learning especially noteworthy (see Table 7 opposite).

Learning agreements: the key to success Learning agreements are a crucial component of a successful workplace learning partnership and their content is important (see Table 8 opposite). Content analysis of 281 learning agreements (63 per cent private sector, 33 per cent public sector) shows that: ■ a large majority are inclusive (i.e. they cover union members and non-members) ■ over three-quarters establish a learning committee ■ over half include commitments to support a learning centre ■ very few specify financial commitment by employers. Learning agreements tend to endure, according to the follow-up survey of UPOs. Just under half (48 per cent) of UPOs say all agreements have remained in place after the project has been completed, while just over half (52 per cent) report agreements have remained in operation in the majority of cases. Almost six out of ten projects have established new learning agreements since completion.


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Just as securing time to learn remains a major barrier for individuals, securing time to carry out their role remains a problem for many ULRs. At Warburtons bakery (case study above), while the learning agreement provided for time off for ULRs to perform their duties, this was limited in practice by the need to meet production requirements. An agreement granting ULRs two hours every three days was being renegotiated at company level at the time of the survey.

CASE STUDY Investing in the future Bombardier Transportation could see the business benefits of the union learning project so clearly that when external funding dried up the company stepped in to invest at significantly increased levels. While the company injected between £25,000 and £30,000 in the first two years of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU) project, once ULF funding ended, it invested around £80,000 in 2009. “The learning centre manager made the role he was doing viable, and when the [ULF] funding stopped, the business benefits were so obvious we would be daft not to continue the work with our own funding,” says the site general manager. Continuing to invest in the project was linked to extending the learning opportunities on offer to achieve specific business benefits; language classes have proved invaluable for global communication within the firm, while Pilates classes have helped reduce repetitive strain injuries and sickness absence among the welders who work for long hours in restrictive conditions.

Table 5: Impact of the recession on union learning – union views (percentage) Activity Increased No change Employee demand for learning 74 26 Joint working with unions 57 39 Organisational support for union learning 50 37

Decreased 0 4 13

Source: Union project officers’ follow-up survey, base: 53 responses.

Table 6: Sustainability and added value of union learning – employers’ views (percentage) Views of employers involved in union learning Agree Neither agree nor disagree


Unions should continue to develop their role in the learning agenda Organisation will continue to be involved with union learning activities Union learning benefited individuals taking part Management very supportive of the union role on learning Union learning of benefit to the organisation Learning activities will take place, even without external funding

1 4 4 5 19 28

91 87 81 79 63 43

8 10 15 16 18 29

Source: Employers’ survey, base: 415 responses.

Table 7: Management support and employee relations on learning issues since end of project (percentage) Activities Increased No change Decreased Level of consultation 64 33 4 Level of negotiation 62 33 6 Union–management partnership activity 58 37 6 Openess of management to new union initiatives and projects 58 31 12 Senior management support for union-led learning 56 37 8 Source: Union project officers’ follow-up survey ULF Rounds 8–10, base: 52 responses.

Table 8: Proportion of learning agreements including specific selected provisions Provision Percentage Covers all employees (members and non-members) 85 Commitment to partnership 81 Includes an equal opportunities statement 80 Identification of learning needs 79 Establishment of learning committee 76 Support for learning centre 57 Joint monitoring of agreement 55 Paid time off for learning 54 ULR role 50 Union role 47 Employer contribution to cost 17 Source: CERIC Learning Agreement Database, base: 281 learning agreements.

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G N I N R A E L N O I 5. UN S N O I N U R O PAYS OFF F “We have come a long way, with unions developing national learning strategies, and key messages about the value of learning to unions being grasped by most at regional levels too: the challenge is to ensure that this is turned into action to bed ULRs into organising strategies so they are not a bolt-on project from outside, but really a part of what we all do.” Union stakeholder

According to the learners’ survey, as many as 85 per cent of the respondents see the value of the union’s work on learning and three-quarters now look more favourably on the work unions do in general as a result of their union learning experiences. Learning links with organising There is considerable evidence that union learning helps unions build their organising capacity. Activities that were established during the majority of the projects were ULRs working more effectively within their branch; learning becoming more linked to union organising; and learning and skills forming part of union negotiating (see Table 9 below).

ULF projects have had a positive impact on participating unions, according to UPOs. More than nine out ten (91 per cent) believe the ULF has improved employee attitudes to the union; nearly eight out of ten (79 per cent) say it has led to members becoming more interested in taking union roles; more than eight out of ten (82 per cent) say it has helped workplace reps become more capable; and just under seven out of ten (69 per cent) credit the ULF with increased union membership. In many cases, these numbers increase after the completion of the projects, with more than two-thirds reporting increased activity in many areas (see Table 10 opposite). Learning centres boost outcomes The presence of learning centres helps to establish a union learning culture. Overall, 215 learning centres have been set up in just over half (54 per cent) of the Round 8–10 projects. Just under half of projects (48 per cent) reported that of the learning centres established all were still in operation, while a similar proportion reported that the majority were operational. Moreover, just over half (56 per cent) reported that new learning centres had been established following the completion of the project. In a crucial assessment of the significance of the union contribution, many projects recognise that what are now

Table 9: Embedding union-led learning within unions (ULF Rounds 8–11) (percentage) Activity Existed before Established Working project during project towards

Not working towards

ULRs working more effectively within their branch Learning more linked to union organising Learning/skills forming part of union negotiating Union officers having a specific role for learning Written learning policy established ULR role written into rulebook

3 10 11 24 24 19

Source: Union project officers’ survey, base: 84 responses.


unionlearn adding value

11 12 20 41 30 27

63 62 50 39 38 28

24 16 20 8 8 26

Table 10: Post-project embedding of learning into union structures and policies (percentage) Union structures and policies Increased No change Decreased Link between learning and wider organising activity 73 21 6 Senior officer support for union learning activity 68 29 4 Formal union support for wider project work 68 33 0 Day-to-day engagement with unionlearn 64 26 10 Position of learning/skills in union negotiating agenda 62 35 4 Embedding of ULR role in branches 60 37 4 Source: Union project officers’ follow-up survey, base: 53 responses.


successful and extensively used learning centres would never have been opened without the initial injection of funding from the ULF.

Building capacity “Would the learning in the learning centre have happened anyway? No I don’t think so, I don’t think it would have been on my agenda if it had not been pushed in front of me by those guys [the union reps],” according to the HR manager at Unilever.

The Unite ULF project Learning for Organising Migrant Workers encouraged more than 1,000 vulnerable workers in London’s contract cleaning sector into English and computer classes. “The initiative was built on an organising campaign for a living wage and involved very focused targeting on highly exploited workers who would benefit most from such activity,” says the union project manager.

“At one point we got stuck around the funding for the PCs, but they sorted it and it has been a really important part of it, that they’ve taken the lead and sorted things out.”

Run at weekends because of cleaners’ unsocial working hours, the free classes not only helped the learners stand up for their rights, but also improved union organisation and contributed to union renewal by encouraging new committed members to join their local branch committee.

Paul Carter

unionlearn adding value


Sustainability is crucial It is important to assess the added value that union learning brings to the workplace. This involves estimating what activity would not have taken place without the projects – demonstrating their additionality. Without ULF funding, according to UPOs, very few learning needs assessments would have taken place (see Table 11 below). The quantity and quality of learning also would not have been as high; with fewer learners and poorer quality learning provision.

learning activity at the workplace through establishing learning agreements, partnerships and learning committees (see Table 12 below). There are some importance differences of opinion between employers and UPOs over sustainability: while two in five employers believe union learning would take place even without external funding, four out of five UPOs believe that ending government support for ULF projects would diminish the sustainability of union learning.

Of key importance to unions are also the factors that are most likely to influence the ongoing sustainability of union learning. The findings of the UPO follow-up survey underline the importance of institutionalising union

Table 11: Additionality in ULF projects What would have happened without ULF funding? No learning needs assessment Same learning but fewer learners Learning would have been of a poorer quality No learning at all Learning would have occurred later Same learning but for less time Same learning would have taken place

Yes (percentage) 76 58 44 35 24 17 12

Source: Union project officers’ survey, base: 84 responses.

Table 12: Factors influencing sustainability of union learning (percentage) Factors Enhances A signed learning agreement 81 Partnership approach between management and unions 78 Consultation on learning 74 A learning committee 72 Formal bargaining on learning 68 A learning centre 58 End of government financial support 2 Source: Union project officers’ follow-up survey ULF Rounds 8–10, base: 54 responses.


unionlearn adding value

No impact 15 20 26 39 32 39 15

Diminishes 4 2 0 0 0 4 84

T N E M P O L E V E D E R U T U F E 6. TH N R A E L N O I N U F O “You have developed a powerful model in unionlearn, reaching out to businesses and giving individuals a chance they never would have had.” Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

“Volumes have increased and, with better reporting and evidence, union learning is now seen to be better value for money” says a partner stakeholder. “It has ratcheted up targets and value – although the union learning target group is often ‘hard to reach’, so it is not so easy to compare this with outcomes via other routes.” Government and regional funding partners rate unionlearn’s contribution to the development of learning and skills policy (including its specific input into national strategies on adult careers guidance, Skills for Life and informal adult learning). Partners also recognise the value of feedback from unions and ULRs (via unionlearn) on the implementation of workplace-based learning and skills policy, especially sector skills, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), Train to Gain and the Skills Pledge. “The union learning agenda is closely linked to the skills policy infrastructure in terms of skills activism, new industry/new jobs and green skills, and unionlearn has also made good contributions to the Skills White Paper,” says a government stakeholder.

Jess Hurd/

Union and government stakeholders believe union learning has met or exceeded the challenges set in terms of funding for learner targets, and regional funding partners say union learning is perceived as being good value for money as a route to learner and employer engagement.

Union stakeholders felt that the creation of unionlearn, which brought together trade union rep education and trade union learning services (for members), has helped to build ‘legitimacy’ of the union role in learning and skills within the union movement. Stakeholders believed unionlearn has largely achieved its objective of generating large volumes of learners in order to build a ‘critical mass’ of activity and gain legitimacy within the union movement and government. Looking to the future, most partners feel that the focus for the next three to five years should be on consolidation, building the learning role within unions and linking this to the wider learning and skills infrastructure. While most partners believe unionlearn provides coherence to union learning, union partners believe that, while progress has been made to achieve greater consistency between the work of the national and regional teams, there was more to do to improve joinedup working at the national and regional level.

unionlearn adding value


‘All these positive messages offer optimism about the sustainability of union learning’

The findings of the evaluation suggest that, while embedding union learning remains a challenge, there seems to be a striking degree of consensus among union representatives and employers about the potential benefits of union learning.

engaging employers, be it in terms of raising general interest and support from employers, establishing learning agreements or eliciting the appropriate time needed for learners to receive advice about or take advantage of learning opportunities.

The benefits are evidenced by the impressive set of formal learning outputs delivered by ULF projects. Union learning activity is offering accredited learning opportunities for many learners with few or no formal qualifications and this has led to progression for a significant minority. There have also been notable successes in terms of take-up of higher-level skills. Overall, there is clear evidence that progression in learning would not have happened without union intervention.

UPOs also face challenges in terms of the recruitment and training of ULRs: time constraints are an additional pressure on ULRs.

Learning is also becoming a more ‘mainstreamed’ activity for unions. They are writing the role of ULRs into their rulebooks; developing more formal policies around learning; linking learning explicitly to organising; establishing more effective working between ULRs and branches; and putting learning into the negotiation arena. This is not to suggest there are no challenges. UPOs in advancing ULF projects and ULRs in the promotion of learning at the workplace face considerable barriers in

While noting the challenges that unions face in advancing learning, the evaluation has highlighted the perceived impacts that union learning is having for both unions and employers. For UPOs, union activity is leading to learning opportunities that simply would not have existed without the ULF, and employers confirm that the union role has led to higher levels of learning. The employers also appear confident about future and ongoing engagement with unions on learning matters, even without external funding, and there is also stakeholder recognition of the increased capacity for supporting this work since the establishment of unionlearn. All these positive messages offer optimism about the sustainability of union learning.

Jess Hurd/


unionlearn adding value

Trades Union Congress, Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS Design: Print: Precision Printing Cover photo: Mark Thompson

Union learning adding value - An evaluation of unionlearn and the union learning fund  
Union learning adding value - An evaluation of unionlearn and the union learning fund  

This summary is based on the evaluation of unionlearn and the ULF (Rounds 8-11) led by Professor Mark Stuart and supported by Jo Cutter, Hug...