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The unionlearn offer to the Sector Skills Councils Helping to shape and deliver learning at the workplace

58 number of trade unions affiliated to the TUC

n Introduction Unionlearn is the learning and skills arm of the TUC. It was set up in 2005, with government support, to help unions open up a wide range of learning opportunities for their members. The TUC has 58 affiliated trade unions, representing 6.2 million people working in every sector of the UK economy. The value of trade unions’ involvement in learning and skills has been acknowledged by the Government and by opposition politicians. The recent White Paper Skills for Growth noted: “Trade unions can help us reach the very hardest-to-reach workers, giving them the advice, support and confidence they need to improve their skills … [and] their help is also greatly valued in supporting apprenticeships.” For the Conservatives, John Hayes, Shadow Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, has stated in Parliament: “I want to put it on record that I value the work of trade union learning representatives – I know that that applies to those on the Treasury Bench and Hon. Members of all parties.” (Hansard, 6 July 2009)

n Unionlearn and the Sector Skills

Councils (SSCs)

The 2003 White Paper, 21st Century Skills – Realising Our Potential gave a commitment to union representation on the boards of SSCs. This has been achieved with the nomination by unionlearn of a senior official from one of the relevant TUC-affiliated trade unions for each SSC. In some cases SSCs have elected to have more than one trade union board member. Unions also provide representatives to sit on the various specialised sub-groups within SSCs. These will often be senior lay officials from the specific region, sub-sector or skillset concerned, or full-time officials with a detailed knowledge of that area of work.

“Trade unions can help us reach the very hardest-to-reach workers, giving them the advice, support and confidence they need to improve their skills.” White Paper Skills for Growth

Photo: Simon Weller


The unionlearn offer to the Sector Skills Councils

£16.2m amount unionlearn distributes

annually to help create a learning society

n The union learning structure The delivery of union learning is primarily through the union learning representative (ULR). These union representatives have statutory rights to promote learning and training with their colleagues and to work with their employers and local providers to ensure everyone in the workforce has the opportunity to engage in learning. Despite their statutory rights, ULRs are largely dependent on the goodwill of their employers to give them sufficient time and resources to conduct their activities. By 2009, over 22,000 union members had received National Open College Network (NOCN) accredited training in the core role of ULRs, with many going on to achieve further accredited qualifications such as Information, Advice and Guidance, Workforce Development and Negotiating with Employers on Learning Activities.

Union Learning Fund (ULF). In 2009–10, unionlearn distributed £16.2m of national and regional government funds to promote activity by trade unions that will help to create a learning society. The prospectus for the ULF includes a theme entitled ‘Sectors’, with a set of sector-related criteria: • joint work with Sector Skills Councils • developing union sectoral strategies which incorporate the role and experiences of ULRs and wider union work on learning and skills • engagement with Sector Skills Councils through sector skills and supplementary agreements • developing multi-union work in specific sectors • supporting union officers on Sector Skills Councils.

ULRs are part of the union organisation at the workplace, and have the support of a team of representatives as well as the full-time national officers of their union. Even where there are no ULRs in place, many of today’s union representatives are aware of the learning agenda and of its relevance beyond the traditional ‘educate, agitate, organise’ slogan of the early union movement. In their turn, unions are supported by unionlearn, in many cases with financial assistance from the

By 2009, over 22,000 union members had received National Open College Network (NOCN) accredited training in the core role of ULRs. Photo: Mark Thompson


The unionlearn offer to the Sector Skills Councils

3.2 million number of hits per month on

n Unionlearn as a communication

and influencing portal

Unionlearn and the TUC reach a wide range of SSC stakeholders through various communication media: • the unionlearn website – 3.2 million hits per month during 2009 • unionlearn e-alerts – currently 75,000 subscribers • The Learning Rep magazine – a quarterly printed magazine with a circulation of 25,000, including ULRs, union officers, MPs, civil servants and learning professionals. Also available for downloading from the unionlearn website

n Unionlearn Quality Award The unionlearn Quality Award is a recognised mark of quality that helps reps to identify providers and advice services working successfully and flexibly with unions. It was designed to help unions secure good quality provision, and can be awarded for individual programmes and courses that demonstrate good practice on working with unions and teaching and learning. The success of the Quality Award led to a new version being developed for careers information and advice services. Both Skillset and the Financial Services Skills Council have successfully achieved the Quality Award for their careers services.

• unionlearn research – free copies of ten research reports on union-related aspects of learning and skills are available through the unionlearn website, in either hard copy or pdf. The TUC has representatives on many influential bodies, including the UKCES, RDAs, the LSEB and NIACE. It was also represented at all levels in the LSC. TUC and unionlearn personnel meet regularly with senior officials from BIS, and are involved in initiatives as wide-ranging as the Women and Work Sector Pathways Initiative and the Government Forum for Just Transition. Unionlearn has signed memoranda of understanding with several of the learning and skills organisations with which it works, including UKRC for women in science, engineering and technology, the Open University, the National Extension College, Investors in People and Foundation Degree Forward. Union officials have day-to-day access to a large number of employers, and are increasingly aware of the importance of promoting the learning and skills agenda. The sectoral LMI available through SSCs can be a valuable tool in this process. Photo: Simon Weller


The unionlearn offer to the Sector Skills Councils

andhasobjectives 2Aims years funding been provided by the

National Apprenticeship Service for a two-year project promoting apprenticeships to unions and employers n Union learning in action Developing qualifications The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) worked with the BSA and Asset Skills to map out the need for a Level 2 skills framework for workers providing a service to the public. As a result of this work Asset Skills has developed a Skills for Supporting Public Services qualification, which is being launched across England in a joint project involving the ULF and three unions. It is managed by Asset Skills. Delivering skills The Communication Workers Union (CWU) is a partner with GoSkills in the eTEN funded BLOOM project – Bite Sized Learning Opportunities on Mobile Devices. CWU’s contribution has included the piloting, evaluation and dissemination of the project, making good use of its network of ULRs and learning centres.

Supporting members through the recession The unionlearn Skills: Recession and Recovery project works with trade unions and a variety of stakeholders ranging from JobCentre Plus to RDAs and SSCs to ensure that unions have help in supporting their members through recession and on the way to recovery. One of the main project objectives is to gather examples of best practice in avoiding redundancies, identifying growth sectors, finding learning opportunities and sharing the good work that is already being done in the unions. The project will run to March 2011 and has a regional development worker in each of the English regions, plus a national co-ordinator.

Promoting apprenticeships The TUC is funded by the National Apprenticeship Service for a two-year project promoting apprenticeships to unions and employers. The project liaises with the SSC trade union network, offering advice and support to union officers and representatives on all aspects of apprenticeships. It has also undertaken some joint awareness raising work with the Council for Administration. Various apprenticeship resources are available from the project, including a toolkit for employers, guides for union reps, and leaflets for apprentices. Photo: Mark Thompson


The unionlearn offer to the Sector Skills Councils

Unionlearn contacts for Sector Skills Councils National


General enquiries from SSCs Ann Joss

Northern Elizabeth Killoran 5th floor, Commercial Union House, 39 Pilgrim Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 6QE

Apprenticeships Scarlet Harris Skills: Recession and Recovery Kirsi Kekki The Quality Award Ian Borkett Communications James Asser

North West Dave Eva 2nd Floor, Orleans House, Edmund Street, Liverpool, L3 9NG

Southern and Eastern Barry Francis Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS South West Helen Cole Ground Floor, Church House, Church Road, Filton, Bristol, BS34 7BD

Yorkshire and the Humber Alan Roe Friends Provident House, 33 Park Place, Leeds, LS1 2RY Midlands Mary Alys 24 Livery Street, Birmingham, B3 2PA

Designed by Rumba Graphic Design, printed by College Hill Press Ltd. Cover photo: Mark Thompson

unionlearn offer to the Sector Skills Councils