Archive | March, 2011

March for the Alternative – 26 March

29 Mar

The Unite learning organisers joined the delegation on the TUC March for the Alternative through central London on Saturday. The Unite delegation was massive and lively, and there was a great atmosphere on the day.

It was very encouraging to see that unions are able to mobile hundreds of thousands of people, and that the majority of the people in the UK support the aims of the march.

Despite media reports of violence, the march was peaceful and atmosphere was fantastic and friendly.

Here is some footage of General Secretary Len McCluskey marching with the Unite delegation:

As unions we need to build on the momentum created at the march. As the large scale public support for the demonstration shows, there is no mandate for the cuts which are being driven by the Coalition government. These cuts will affect everything, including our members’ opportunities to learn and improve their skills.

For more information on why cuts are the wrong cure, see the False Economy website.


NHS Tayside learning survey

25 Mar

In the last quarter of 2010, the NHS Tayside Lifelong Learning Group conducted a survey asking staff about their learning needs. The survey was distributed universally by email, and somewhat unevenly in hard copy. The survey is a practical exercise to determine what staff are interested in learning, and where they are physically based, so that lifelong learning courses can be organised for them. Courses are organised through the Lifelong Learning Group, which is made of the representatives of the NHS and the unions and professional organisations, including Unite, Unison and the RCN.

This is the second time this survey has been run. There were 1,258 responses to the survey, which is close to the response of 1,341 achieved when the survey was run in 2008. This represents just under 10% of staff employed by NHS Tayside, and it is interesting that this response rate has been consistent. The survey run in 2010 did not ask exactly the same questions as 2008, as the decision was made to ask more detailed questions that would provide the practical information necessary to organise appropriate learning.

Nonetheless, there is enough overlap to be able to compare responses to this survey with the previous one. Once again, ancillary staff – those who would benefit most from learning – are under represented. However, it should be noted that many who ticked the “other” box indicated that they were domestic or other ancillary workers, so the response is somewhat better than it first appears.


We are making slow progress in raising awareness. In 2008, 73% of respondents had never heard of Union Learning Reps. This figure is now down to 60%, which is an improvement, but still not an ideal situation. Also encouraging is the fact that 46% of people had heard of the Group.

Learning needs

Questions about learning needs were asked in considerably more detail than in the previous survey. This was done in order to drill down and quantify the learning need more specifically so that learning opportunities could be organised. One of the criticisms of the previous survey was that it was not sufficiently detailed to be able to organise courses for people.

Languages and communications

There is a very high demand for Communications, Report Writing and Public Speaking and Presentations courses. This is encouraging as these courses are relatively easy to organise through existing funding streams. Under “other”, a number of participants indicated that they would like to learn British Sign Language. The high level of demand for this course suggests it should have been an option on the survey. Other requests included Gaelic, Greek, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Turkish, Urdu, short hand and Portuguese.

Maths and numbers

Clearly the biggest demand here is for a Pensions course.

IT and Computers

There is still demand for basic IT, but there is a much greater demand for advanced courses, including a surprising number for web design. This may be a result of the work done by the Group to deliver basic IT over the past two years. Over 100 respondents gave detailed responses. For the most part, this was to request specific modules – Excel and database software being especially popular. Other requests included Photoshop, CSS, project management software, digital story telling and using video, ASP.Net, Java, building and fixing PCs, Cisco networking, Red Hat Linux and Microsoft Certified Training. Some responses were slightly concerning, such as the following:

“Anything IT related as I am supposed to be one of the IT support at our surgery” – Female admin worker, Dundee

Others showed a considered response to the role of IT in the workplace:

“Myself and colleagues would like to create a web page for our project, to allow a wide range of people to access our information.”- Female allied health professional, Perth “I would be interested in gaining skills such as web design, software development etc. that may allow me to consider a career move/promotion if the opportunity came up within my department.” – Female admin worker, Dundee

Trade union courses

There was a fairly high demand for trade union courses, including for Union Learning Rep training, which will need to be followed up by the group.

Further and Higher Education and Vocational training

There was a high level of interest in this category, including more than 200 people wanting to do post-graduate degrees. Open University courses were also a popular option, and we will make our contacts in the OU aware of the demand at NHS Tayside. However, what is striking is that 282 people – 46% of respondents – indicated that they would like work related qualifications. 155 people left detailed commentary about their work related learning needs. This needs to be analysed carefully by the organisation to see how it maps into existing training provision.

95% of participants indicated that they had a computer with Internet access at home. However, it should be noted that this reflects that fact that the primary distribution method was by email. 75% of respondents said that Dundee was a suitable training venue, with about 30% each indicating that Perth or Angus were suitable. A small percentage ticked the “other” option – for this group, Fife was the most popular venue. 126 respondents indicated they would like further information on becoming a learning rep. This information will have to be disaggregated by union, and contact made by the relevant organisation.

Why do you want to learn?


The results of this question are almost exactly the same as they were in the previous survey.


There is a clear bias in the survey to staff who already have relatively high skills levels. This is demonstrated by the high response from Allied Health Professionals and Admin and Clerical staff, as well as the high demand for post-graduate courses. We will need to do more to reach Ancillary and Estates staff members. There is still a high demand for learning within NHS Tayside which has hardly been dented by the Lifelong Learning Group. However, there is some shift in the demand – we are seeing less demand for basic IT, perhaps as a result of successful courses run – and a greater demand for more advanced and specific packages. It is also clear from many of the written answers that respondents are unclear of the nature of the offer, with some indicating that it is inappropriate to use NHS resources to fund non-vocational learning during a time of public sector cuts. There is not a wide spread awareness that the learning is organised as a partnership and leverages in additional resources to support NHS staff. This suggests there is a continue need for publicity. The next step for the Group is to share the overview survey results with learning providers and negotiate a course programme for the year with them.

The Unite learning programme in NHS Tayside is run by convenor John Boland. You can contact him, or any other Unite rep, here.

What's available through the Unite learning programme?

24 Mar

Unite is a large and diverse union, and our members have different needs. As much as possible, our learning programme tries to meet that need, and we provide everything from one to one literacy support through to vocational qualifications and university degrees.

Usually we survey a workplace to find out what members want to learn, and design a learning programme based on that. Once we have an idea of what the learning need is, we can begin to negotiate with colleges and funders to deliver the learning.

Some of the courses we have run over the past year include:

  • Literacy
  • Numeracy
  • Pensions
  • Basic IT
  • e-Revolution
  • PC Passport
  • ECDL
  • Learning to Learn Online
  • Report Writing and Minute Taking
  • Public Speaking
  • Communications and Team Work
  • Spanish
  • Italian
  • British Sign Language
  • Open University Openings courses
  • Open University BEng engineering degrees
  • 17th Edition Wiring Regulations
  • PAT Testing
  • MET1
  • Green Driving and Fuel Efficiency

We don’t guarantee that we can deliver all these courses all the time, because this depends on funding, but we will always do our best to meet members’ needs.

Here is a downloadable booklet that gives an overview of the Unite learning programme for members: Unite booklet Jan 2010

Award ceremony at the Clyde Shipyards

24 Mar

“Learning doesn’t stop at the school gates; not in the Clyde Shipyards anyway!”

Ian Davidson MP, Mike Cord CEO of BAE Systems and Hugh Scullion, General Secretary Confederation of Shipbuilding & Engineering Unions (CSEU) presented awards at a ceremony at the BAE Systems Govan Shipyard in January 2011 to BAE Systems employees who successfully completed accredited training courses. Over 70 employees at the BAE Systems Govan and Scotstoun Shipyards have undertaken accredited learning in Information and Communications Technology (ICT), literacy & numeracy, Pensions, English as Second or Other Language (ESOL) & 17th Edition IEE City & Guilds Wiring Regulations courses.

The learning was organised by Union Learning Reps and the courses where delivered on site at the Govan Shipyard with BAE Systems giving paid time off. This is part of an innovative project by trade unions and employers to bring new learning opportunities to the workplace. The courses were delivered by the trade union education department of Stow College Glasgow.

Unite Learning Reps brought learning into the workplace. The ULRs have facilitated a return to learning for many employees who have been away from learning for many years, or had previous bad experiences of education. The achievement of the employees at BAE Systems is significant due to the fact that all learning took place in the workplace by non-traditional learners, who have been away from learning  for ten, twenty or thirty years in some instances.

Kenny Jordon Regional Secretary for the Confederation of Shipbuilding & Engineering Unions (CSEU) said:

“With over 50 awards being made to working members this is a celebration that development of worthwhile learning does not need to end at the school gates but can be successfully taken into the shipyard with outstanding results”

Billy McKay Unite the Union Govan Convenor & Lead Union Learning Rep for the Clyde Yards said:

“Having taken over responsibility for this in-house learning initiative I have gained great satisfaction from witnessing my colleagues gaining both knowledge and confidence from the courses”

Union Learning Reps are workplace reps, recognised under the Employment Act (2002). They have similar rights to time off and facilities as Shop Stewards and Health and Safety reps. Their remit is to promote lifelong learning in the workplace. Unite has learning agreements with many of Scotland’s key employers, including Rolls-Royce, SPT, First Group, National Australia Group, Remploy, and various local authorities and NHS Boards.

The Union Learning at the Clyde Shipyards has been provided by Union Learning Reps from Unite the Union, GMB & UCATT under the umbrella of the Confederation of Shipbuilding & Engineering Unions (CSSEU).  BAE System is a major employer in Scotland in the West of Scotland providing thousands of jobs in both the Clyde Shipyards.

Where we have signed learning agreements, we work with employers to promote learning and skills in the workplace. We work in partnership with FE colleges to provide accredited training. We sign service level agreements with colleges to ensure our members get high quality tuition delivered in the workplace. Workplace learning is free at the point of access, and funded in a variety of ways, including through employers’ training budgets, ILA, ESF & Glasgow Learning.

Lindsey shows off her sign language skills

23 Mar

Lindsey Millen is a senior Union Learning Rep for Unite at Clydesdale Bank head office in Glasgow. She has arranged lots of courses for her colleagues, including one in British Sign Language.

Here she is showing off her newly acquired skills.

Sign Language at Lloyds Atlantic Quay

23 Mar

Unite members at Lloyds TSB at Atlantic Quay in Glasgow recently finished the second module of their Signature British Sign Language level one course. The course was organised by Unite Learning Rep Andy Moffat, and delivered by Cardonald College in the workplace.

The course was popular, and members enjoyed getting to grip on sign language. We are hoping to be able to fund a third module shortly that will bring members up to a full level one qualification.

“The tutor was amazing and the group all worked well together.  It is a such an enjoyable course and can’t thank you enough for organising it.”  – MA

The learners in the picture are spelling out “BSL” and “Unite”.

Another year of funding

23 Mar

We have just learned that we have been awarded another year of funding to continue to deliver learning to Unite organised workplaces in Scotland. We have funding from the Scottish Government to support our infrastructure, as well as ESF funding to deliver workplace learning.

We also have agreements with several colleges to deliver learning for Unite members.  You can find out more about the Unite learning project here

If you’re a Unite member and you’d like to develop a lifelong learning programme for your workplace, get in touch.