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Jon Kennard


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Insight: Union-supported learning more popular than ever


Over the last 15 years, there has been a significant increase in adults who access learning opportunities through their unions a new report has found.
The findings of the report 'impact of unions on learning and skills policy and practice: a review of the research'  were presented yesterday at a seminar organised by unionlearn in central London.
The paper is a review of recent research into the effectiveness of union-supported learning provided through the unionlearn framework. It has found that over 230,000 learners are accessing opportunities for learning through their unions annually.
Delegates from unions heard from leading academics in the field how union-supported learning also has the ability to give access to learning to groups normally less likely to approach work place learning. Often these are groups who do not start with any formal qualifications.
Over 28,000 Union Learning Representatives (ULRs) have been recruited and trained since 1999. Their most significant impact has been on increasing the number of members taking up training in basic literacy and numeracy skills and also training leading to nationally recognised vocational or academic qualifications.
There is now increasing recognition that raising productivity requires a greater focus on optimising skills in the workplace which entails the use of high involvement work practices. However, there is often still reluctance on the part of management to enter into negotiations with unions over learning opportunities.
Yet where unions are recognised and negotiate over training, employees are 24 per cent more likely to report receiving training.
Employers involved in union learning activity provide financial contributions to union learning mostly in the form of in-kind provision and almost nine in ten stated that their organisation would continue to be involved with union
learning activity.
Mary Bousted, Chair of the unionlearn board and General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers commented:
“Unionlearn has been at the forefront of undertaking research to ensure that we can walk-the-walk as well as talk-the-talk on skills. We know from this research that the power of learning is not just for the learners themselves but strengthens unions who through their ULRs can  facilitate and invigorate a learning culture at the workplace. ”
Dr Leena Kumarappan, Working Lives Research Institute, London Metropolitan University said:
“Unionlearn is making an important contribution to facilitating equality and diversity in the workplace, and helps to stimulate self-esteem and self-confidence.”
Tom Wilson, Director of unionlearn said
“This research shows that unions can and do provide the confidence and trust required for working people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to engage with and benefit from learning that meets their diverse needs.”

Author Profile Picture
Jon Kennard

Freelance writer

Read more from Jon Kennard

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