International Day of Education

Today’s guest blog comes from Matt Gillett, Unite Regional Education Officer.

As we celebrate UN International Day for Education it’s worth noting that learning is something that does not end with school or university but continues, both formally and informally, for all of our lives. And for trade unions, access to ongoing learning and education is an issue that is central to so much of what we do. Ensuring that our members in the workplace and the community have the chance to refresh and add to their skills and knowledge to support them in every aspect of their lives.

Learn with Unite is my union’s lifelong learning section. We are part of the Unionlearn project, a government funded initiative, started in the late 1990s to support workplace learning. By working constructively with employers right across industry we have ensured workers have had the opportunity to complete functional skills courses in English and Maths, and vocational qualifications right through to adult apprenticeships. This has been done with the active participation of the more than 40,000 Union Learning Reps who have been trained since Unionlearn was set up. This means we have a quarter of a million learners able to access courses each year through the project. Unite alone currently has over 450 learning agreements with employers that cover around 800,000 workers. Our aim is to build sustainable learning through these agreements and the involvement of our Reps and partner colleges and training providers. Our work with the Bristol Mayor’s office and the Learning City initiative will also help us do this.

Working with those partners we also provide key support to those affected by redundancy with courses in employability skills such as interview techniques, CV writing and job searches. Through our online courses, we provide a further range of recognised and transferable qualifications. Recognising that computer skills are becoming increasingly important in all of our lives we provide computer training from basic through to Level 1 and 2 qualifications. Digital exclusion is a huge equality issue that should concern us all.

Through our focus on equality and diversity we work to increase inclusion and overcome barriers to learning. Our offer of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) allows us to support migrant workers. In Bristol we have a learning centre in our Unite Regional Headquarters in Tony Benn House which offers support to the community through a jobs club, computer classes and ESOL conversation as well as one off sessions such as diabetes awareness. Working with key organisations in the city we are pursuing ideas to make learning available to refugees and asylum seekers.

Lifelong learning, and the access to it, is vital to every aspect of our lives.

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