Today’s guest blog is from Matt Gillett, Regional Education Officer at UNITE South West.
Unions have always played a key role in the learning agenda. From the education of our Union Representatives through to negotiating with employers to provide access to training for millions of employees through workplace learning agreements. Union education programmes have ensured that our Reps gain the knowledge and skills to effectively represent their members and operate effectively with employers to ensure positive industrial relations outcomes. Through these courses, for example, Health and Safety Reps acquire the expertise essential to their roles in helping in the prevention of accidents and incidents, instigating good practices and keeping workers safe in their jobs with fewer accidents and less sick absence.
Trade unions have also been at the forefront of promoting lifelong learning. Engaging with companies and education providers we have established learning agreements giving workers the opportunity to access courses such as English, maths, digital skills, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and vocational qualifications, including adult apprenticeships. Many of these workers have been out of formal education for a long periods, and indeed may not have had the most positive experiences when they were at school. Through the provision of on-site learning centres and by working with companies to make sure courses take place at times that minimise their operational disruption we have been able to open up opportunities to countless individuals. Numerous employers across the city, including Bristol City Council itself, have been examples of the success of unions and businesses working together to the mutual benefit of the workforce and the employers themselves. Union Learning Reps who promote training and encourage their colleagues to take part are pivotal to the reach and success of these projects.
We remain heavily involved in the area of redundancy support, ensuring that those at risk of losing their jobs receive training in CV writing, interview techniques and job searching skills, as well as accessing those key qualifications listed above, to give them the best chance of securing new positions.
During the pandemic of course, classroom delivery of both Reps education and lifelong learning had to cease. However, thanks to the hard work and adaptability of tutors and providers, we were able to quickly move to online and ‘virtual classroom’ learning through Zoom and similar platforms. Many individuals have accessed online learning during the last 15 months and my own union Unite has long had an extensive online offer which has even more come into it’s own during this period. Meanwhile, activists have been able to continue to work with tutors and each other to share knowledge, experience and solidarity through our Reps education programmes. I want to pay tribute to the flexibility of those who have taken part in all these aspects of learning and training over the last year or so.
Adult Learner Week reminds us that as the economy reshapes the need to have access to learning, upskilling and retraining has never been greater. Trade unions will continue to play a vital part in making this possible.