Archive | January, 2011

Lifelong Learning in National Australia Group

6 Jan

Unite signed a learning agreement with National Australia Group (NAG) – covering Yorkshire and Clydesdale Banks – in April 2009. The agreement commits Unite and the company to create a joint Learning Partnership Committee to negotiate collectively around skills and learning in the workplace. This includes the union having input into the company training offer, and the company facilitating learning organised by the union.

The project was initially led by senior workplace reps in Glasgow (Clydesdale Bank) and Leeds (Yorkshire Bank). Over the past 18 months a number of Union Learning Reps (ULRs) have been trained, and activity is beginning to devolve to workplace level.

The union and company meet on a quarterly basis to negotiate learning and training issues. This includes negotiating release for ULRs to organise learning in the workplace. The ULR network is growing, and ULRs conducted a company-wide learning needs analysis of NAG staff. Learning activity was officially launched at World Book Day in March 2010, and ULRs have subsequently organised learning in a number of workplaces.

Because learning and skills is a devolved issue, there is some difference in the way this has proceeded in the different countries. The union in Scotland was able to successfully bid for ESF and other funding to deliver courses at the workplace. In the past nine months, this has resulted in over a hundred staff at two Scottish sites in Glasgow and Clydebank taking part in accredited learning, including Open University Openings courses, European Computer Drivers’ License, Spanish and British Sign Language. Courses have run in the workplace at the end of the working day, with staff giving up their own time to participate.

The courses have been delivered by Further Education colleges, and have evaluated very well. The quality of provision has been excellent, with the colleges providing a highly professional service to sound pedagogical principles, adapting learning to suit the diverse needs of adult learners in the workplace. Staff particularly embraced the Sign Language courses, and we believe this is a potential public relations goldmine for the bank, as it demonstrates a commitment to social inclusion issues. Indeed, course participants have taken an interest in deaf issues, attending community events. We believe it is worth exploiting this angle with the bank as part of a CSR commitment, and we hope it will result in the bank committing resources.

ULRs in England arranged successful Festivals of Learning at the Leeds branches of Yorkshire Bank, Merion Way and Brunswick Point. These events gave bank staff the opportunity to participate in workshops on a number of craft-related skills, as well as digital photography, healthy eating and family history. ULRs also streamed staff towards the union’s learning centres. ULRs are currently negotiating with colleges to arrange workplace learning. Because funding arrangements are different in England, reps have had to be innovative to provide opportunities for staff. They have done this by working closely with partner organisations, for instance by getting a mental health charity to run an emotional well-being course.

Over the past few months, there have been moves to roll the learning programme out across the branch network in Scotland with a series of branch visits. This has resulted in the recruitment of new members as well as new activists. Staff in a number of retail branches have completed the learning survey, and plans are being developed to run courses from flagship branches. We expect these to be delivered by partner colleges. Initial surveys show that the need for skills development is much greater in retail branches, where staff get fewer opportunities for learning and training. This allows the union to make a real, substantive difference to people’s lives, by helping them achieve accredited qualifications.

The learning programme has been delivered by the self-activity of a growing number of motivated union learning reps, who have canvassed their workplaces and used a number of innovative and creative approaches to engage staff in new ways. ULRs have begun to provide specialist support to members, by interviewing them about their learning needs and providing information, advice and guidance.

ULRs also visited both Westminster and the Scottish Parliament and articulately addressed politicians about the benefit of union learning to bank staff, the wider community and the economy as a whole.

The success of the project in NAG has had the welcome effect of providing leverage with other finance sector employers, and in Scotland new courses are running in Scottish Widows and Lloyds TSB, along a similar model. We have also recruited reps and made the first steps towards learning programmes at a number of HBoS, Capita, RBS and Royal Sun Alliance sites.

The company’s participation in the Learning Partnership Committee has not always been satisfactory, and it has been difficult to get substantial commitments from them. Nonetheless, we believe the union has demonstrated what can be achieved through learning, and that this puts us in a good position to negotiate increased facility time and other resources from the company in future.

This project has just begun to establish itself, and plans are to develop it comprehensively and work towards coverage for all staff. It benefits both individual union members, who are able to up skill in their chosen area, and the business. We also trust it heralds a phase of positive and constructive industrial relations, as the union and company work together to bring new opportunities for staff.