Previous Article Next Article Despiteinitial concerns, there is some evidence that training partnerships via theUnion Learning Reps scheme are having a beneficial effectTraining partnerships between companies and unions are providing employeeopportunities that go beyond basic skills tuition. At Metroline buses, trainingmanager Mick Hodges explains how its relationship with the Transport andGeneral Workers Union, (T&G) which began with courses including English asa second language, has grown into the provision of a Learning Bus, deliveringaccess to a dozen PCs for staff to use for learning activities at the company’sgarages. “The Learning Bus is used by drivers, engineers, cleaners, somemanagers and administrative staff,” says Hodges. “The trainingoffered is not really work related, but we benefit from offering it to currentstaff. We also send the bus out into the wider community, where it acts as auseful recruitment tool as well.” The development of Metroline’s training relationship mirrors the developingrole of Union Learning Representatives (ULRs) in the UK. According to RobbieGilbert, chief executive of the Employer’s Forum on Statue and Practice (EFSP)the idea of the ULR first emerged to address basic skills problems. However,with legislation in the Employment Act giving reps statutory and potentiallyexpanded responsibilities from April this year, Gilbert is concerned thatcompanies will find themselves saddled with a new union official, and littleidea of how to relate to them. “I don’t believe it has ever been thought through as to how the ULRswill work with the employer’s own provision of training, whether that bethrough Investors in People (IIP), individual learning plans or otherinitiatives,” says Gilbert. Lack of clarity exists regarding how much timethe ULR can spend on their activities, how much access to and influence onstaff they should have and even how learning records created and maintained bythe ULRs in the course of their work should be used, for example. Liz Smith, head of TUC learning services, dismisses these concerns,indicating that by the time the legislation comes into effect, there will beadvice and guidance on ULRs in the form of a revised Acas code, a TUC handbookand a guidebook for employers produced by the Department for Education andSkills. “This should not be a matter for confrontation,” says SusieParsons, chief executive of the Campaign for Learning. “It is abouteverybody doing the best for themselves. The employers can do what’s best fortheir businesses and unions are helping them realise that.” IIP chief executive Ruth Spellman, says: “Unions are less worried aboutpromoting training as a ‘win-win’ initiative for staff and their employer. Anycompany with a union can use that organisation to check what trainingopportunities are being offered and what kind of success training has.” The forthcoming legislation is not the only indication that the Governmentexpects unions to have increased involvement in raising the skills of theworkforce. The Union Learning Fund, set up in 1998 by the DfES, continues tofund initiatives and helped more than 28,000 people engage in learningactivities last year. The fund will become the responsibility of the LearningSkills Council (LSC) from this month. Liz Smith notes that funding is also available from the LSCs for smallerscale local initiatives, and that this kind of finance is frequently used aspump priming to release resources from elsewhere, including ‘matching funds’from the employer themselves. Company-matched cash At British Bakeries in Newcastle, money from the Union Learning Fund wasmatched by the company to establish a learning centre for its 280 employees.Patrick Hutchinson, a ULR from the Bakers, Food &Allied Workers Union, hasbeen seconded from the shopfloor to manage the centre on a full-time basis. “The learning centre has been a joint partnership between the union andthe company split down the middle,” he says. “The company’s side hasnot just been in cash – it has provided space for the centre to be setup.” With much of the course provision coming from Learndirect, the BritishBakeries centre provided a good business case for management as well asincreasing its workers’ skills. Four years ago, Gloucester City Services introduced an initiative to supportbasic skills among its predominantly manual workforce. According to Emma Bradley, personnel officer with the section which providesstreet cleansing operations, provision was originally designed and deliveredwith union involvement as part of the service’s appraisal system and worktowards IIP recognition. Interestingly, policy changes meant government financewas available to support the first year of the initiative and this currentyear, but for the interim period, the organisation provided the fundingrequired. Today, a dedicated classroom contains 10 computers for staff, plus access toa tutor, offering individual support for employees who want to develop theirskills up to and beyond basic literacy and numeracy standards. “Some of our employees left school as soon as possible and camestraight into their job,” explains Bradley. “Now they want to improvetheir skills. They also want to be able to help their children with homework,so there have been benefits there too.” While Gilbert notes that trade unions do not have a substantial history oftaking a training role, it appears they are more than making up for lost time. Susie Parsons says many union leaders will take an active part in thisyear’s Learning at Work Day on May 15, taking job swaps and hoping to betterthe 750,000 staff and 4,000 organisations which took part last year. “Union activity in this area is making a difference,” says JacquiHenderson, chief executive of Central London Learning Skills Council. “Iforganisations can get union involvement in planning how training is to becarried out and what kind of methodology would be appropriate, you can get theright resources for the right people.” Positive outcome The emerging message seems to be that companies should take advantage of theunions’ passion for learning and establish good partnerships which have apositive knock-on outcome for both the organisation and individual staff. “We’ve always had a good relationship with the T&G, and thatrelationship has improved since we created the Learning Bus,” says MickHodges of Metroline. “I hope it continues into the future because itcertainly seems to work. We are able to talk to the union and discuss issuesrather than just confront each other.” Land Rover is working in partnership with no less than three unions to giveits staff training opportunities. However, while the Associate DevelopmentScheme (ADS) has been established and run with the help of Amicus MSF, the GMBand T&G unions, there are no Union Learning Reps involved and funding comesentirely from the company. ADS manager Sian Hewkin explains the scheme emerged from pay negotiations inNovember 2001. While the company pays an amount per head, the programme runsentirely independently of the company, with strict criteria that none of thetraining provided should have anything to do with the employees’ work for thecompany. “The scheme is run entirely as a staff benefit,” says Hewkin.”As long as an associate wants to take a structured course which meets ourcriteria, then we will encourage them to take up that learningopportunity.” Classroom resources are provided by the company, as well as throughpartnerships and links with external training organisations and local colleges.As a result, staff can take part in learning activities ranging from Spanishand driving lessons, to basic brick-laying and even salsa dancing. “A lot want to learn skills such as plumbing, so they can use theseskills at home,” notes Hewkin. “But the programme is also aboutgiving them new skills.” Not only do the unions take an active part in determining the provision oftraining through their presence on the ADS committee, they also provide auseful way of spreading awareness of the opportunities, both through shopstewards directing associates to the ADS resource and through hostingpresentations from ADS staff at union meetings. Key facts from the employment act 2002 Section 43 part 4 of the Employment Act 2002 provides:– The right to reasonable paid time off for Trade UnionLearning Representatives to ensure they are adequately trained to carry outtheir duties– Reasonable paid time off to carry out duties relating to ULRrole, including training needs analysis, arranging learning for members,promoting and informing members of training opportunities and consulting withthe employer about carrying out these activities– The trade union must notify the employer that a member isundergoing training to be a ULR and confirm in writing when that training iscompleteGood Relations – getting the mostfor training from Union partnerships Break down barriers and create a good dialogue with theunion on training issues. Understand and articulate the training needs of the organisation asperceived by management and check these with the perception of unionrepresentatives. There may be hidden training needs that union representativescan perceive.Respect confidentiality. If a union representativehighlights a skill shortage, do not try to identify where the shortage lies orto address the problem through recruitment. Clarity in organisation. Establish exactly what itexpected from union reps, their duties and responsibilities. Be clear about howinformation on individual learners is going to be collected, used and stored.Share success. Celebrate new qualifications or courses through joint newsletters,meetings and even presentations. Related posts:No related photos. Learning to play for a win-win situationOn 1 Apr 2003 in Personnel Today Comments are closed.