Archive | April, 2011

Research: are ULRs State Agents or Social Partners?

19 Apr

The TUC’s learning and skills agency, unionlearn, has released new research on the role of Union Learning Reps (ULRs).

Union Learning Representatives: State Agents or Social Partners? by Bert Clough, was originally published in Labour and Industry, the journal of the Association of Industrial Relations Academics in Australia and New Zealand.

The paper compares the experience of union learning reps in England and New Zealand, reflects on the limitations of the current model and suggests some areas for development. If you’re interested in the bigger picture, it’s worth a read.

According to the paper, social partnership in vocational education and training is undeveloped in the UK, when compared to other North European countries. This is because of Britain’s fairly unregulated labour market, as well as Thatcher’s policy of removing union influence from skills and training policy. Tripartite bodies – such as industry training boards with skills levies – were largely abolished.

The Thatcher Government took a market driven, voluntarist approach to skills, and attempted to create a training market in which decisions to train would be up to individuals or employers.

Unsurprisingly, this policy failed, and the UK quickly developed skills gaps when compared to similar economies in Europe. These skills gaps have a serious economic impact, and lead the UK to under perform, particularly in manufacturing. This approach is still the norm, and one third of UK employers failed to provide any training at all in the past 12 months.

When Labour was elected in 1997, the new Government attempted to address this market failure by addressing the supply side of learning. Unions were recognised as stakeholders, and a number of initiatives were introduced to encourage employers to train. Specialist skills agencies were created, Sector Skills Councils were licensed, and the Union Learning Fund was created to support union-lead learning in the workplace.

Unions were recognised as being particularly good at engaging “hard to reach, non-traditional learners”.

This approach has been fairly successful, and 24,000 ULRs have been trained. There is evidence to show that they have had a positive impact on learning and skills in the workplace, and a large proportion of managers surveyed agree that union learning has had a positive impact on their company. The research also shows a positive correlation between having learning agreements and negotiating structures, and increased uptake of skills and learning.

However, there are limitations to this voluntarist model: the approach was “all carrot and no stick”, and the Tory’s light touch labour regulation was largely maintained, and few attempts were made to address the demand side of learning, for instance by reintroducing skills levies or compelling employers to train.

The paper argues that in many ways ULRs are “state agents”, because they carry out Government skills policy in the workplace. However, because they are union activists with statutory rights, they also carry out a representative role, and in many instances this supersedes their function as state agents. ULRs respond to members’ needs, and in some cases begin to bargain around skills and learning. This is the case in Unite. We are aware of Government skill’s policy, and we engage constructively with it, but when we design our learning programme it’s important for us to always put our members’ learning needs first.

Our learning programme been most successful in workplaces where we have robust collective bargaining around skills and learning. In addition to providing members with courses to support them, we also negotiate with employers to improve and widen their training offer, and invest in the long term development of their staff.

To create a world class economy in Scotland, industry will need to adopt high-involvement work practices (HIWP). This is a way of working that mobilises employees’ skills and creativity by giving them greater engagement and autonomy.

HIWP are proven to be successful at raising productivity and improving economic performance. The four key principles are giving employees Power, Information, Knowledge and Rewards. To successfully create this kind of economy, we will need to move to more collective bargaining over skills and training, investment in the company, job design and the organisation of work.

For union learning to reach its potential of revitalising both our union and the workplaces we are active in, we need statutory collective bargaining on learning and skills in union recognised workplaces – as is the case with pay and conditions.

Let us know what your views are.


Unite to a Better Way through Skills Utilisation

14 Apr

Scottish Union Learn will showcase one example of the work Unite has done in Skills Utilisation within the workplace at the STUC Congress. A fringe meeting/reception will be held on Monday, 18th April 2011 at 5.30pm in the Roman Warrior Suite of the Ayr Racecourse.

Ian Gray Adult Apprentice

The meeting will feature a short video demonstrating the contribution that Unite the Union can make to improved skills utilisation in workplaces. Working with ASLEF and ScotRail, Unite has developed, facilitated and supported an Adult Apprenticeship programme for Semi-Skilled workers within ScotRail’s Shields and Corkerhill Depots in Glasgow.

The Adult Apprenticeship programme gives opportunities to members who have worked in the railways for years and have hit a glass ceiling in progressing to A Grade Fitter from B Grade Fitter due to not having completed an apprenticeship. Prior to commencing on the Adult Apprenticeship programme, members undertook a 20 hour Brush Up Your Skills course  delivered by Stow College’s trade union education department on site at the depot. This Brush Up Your Skills course refreshed members skills, enabling them to take on the task of producing a portfolio that is required to evidence their knowledge for their Scottish Vocational Qualification Level 3 (SVQ 3).

Benny McGinlay Adult Apprentice

The programme brings members up to SVQ Level 3 and gives them a National Certificate in Engineering. The programme has been developed in conjunction with SEMTA, the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies. SEMTA supports UK businesses in achieving global competitiveness through investment in skills. The programme that Unite members are undertaking at ScotRail, is a bespoke development to meet the needs of ScotRail and the daily tasks that A Grade Fitters within the railway are required to perform.

This is another good example of where Unite has identified a learning need of our membership within an employer and developed a programme to meet the needs of both our members and the employer that they work for.

Download flyer for event here.

Negotiating a Learning Agreement

13 Apr

The key to a successful lifelong learning programme is to negotiate a good learning agreement with your employer. A learning agreement commits the union and the employer to work together to improve access to learning and skills for staff. It establishes collective bargaining structures that allow us to negotiate around skills and give our members the best possible opportunities to develop.

A useful principle of collective bargaining is that it should always happen at the highest level possible, so that the maximum amount of people can benefit, and so that good practice becomes standard. Therefore, if you work for a large company with branches across the country, getting a national agreement is a good idea. However, this is not always possible, and sometimes it is necessary to negotiate local agreements at site level. These can be used as pilot schemes before rolling out the agreement to the rest of the organisation.

You can download a copy of a Unite model learning agreement here. It is a simple agreement that calls for the establishment of a Learning Partnership Committee, consisting of union and company representatives.

Typically, this Committee will meet regularly to discuss learning and skills issues, including developing learning surveys, delivering courses and funding learning. Ideally, the Committee should link into other negotiating structures, so that learning and skills becomes a key bargaining issue, and the right to access learning is incorporated in terms and conditions.

A good learning agreement creates a healthy industrial relations environment, and is good for employers too. By working with the union, employers can access training opportunities for staff, and draw on the union’s lifelong learning expertise.

Once you have agreed to a learning agreement, it is often useful to hold a public signing to celebrate the event. You can consider inviting your MP or MSP, or another speaker. The signing of a learning agreement is a good news story, because it is about cooperation between the employer and the union to bring opportunities to members. It is worth getting some publicity for it.

If you would like to negotiate a learning agreement in your workplace, and set up a Learning Partnership Committee, please get in touch. Our negotiators will help you to build a case for a learning agreement.

John Malone: Learning Journey to a Degree

8 Apr

– by Pat McIlvogue

Profile of a Unite union learner: John Malone

John Malone is an ordinary working class family man with all the usual stresses and strains that modern life brings to a family. Having been away from learning for over two decades there was a real apprehension and fear for John to return to learning: Am I too old to learn? Can I spare the time? Can I afford the cost of learning? Can I face returning to an educational institution?

These barriers to learning that existed for John were removed by that fact that all of John’s learning was done within his workplace of Rolls-Royce Inchinnan through a workplace learning programme that is provided by Unite the Union, the Open University and Rolls-Royce.

The Unite the Union lifelong learning programme in Scotland gave the opportunity to return to learning to members in John’s workplace who have been away from learning for many years. The learners like John who attended courses provided by Unite would not have returned to learning due to previous bad experiences at school or college or had been away from learning for so long that they would not have had the confidence to return to a learning environment. The learning that John undertook was brought into his workplace at Rolls-Royce Inchinnan by Unite arranged around their rotating shift patterns, delivered in their workplace in a familiar environment alongside people that they are comfortable with.

John has been part of Unite’s learning programme at Rolls-Royce Inchinnan since early 2007. In that time he has taken part in the following courses: Introduction to Conversational Spanish in 2007 provided by Stow College’s TUC department. This course gave John the confidence to return to the learning environment and gave John the learning bug. John continued learning this time with an ICT course PC Passport. PC Passport was an 18 month course due to John’s shift patterns. PC Passport incorporated Using Computers Stages 1, 2, & 3.  John started PC Passport in August 2007 and completed it in 2009, all the ICT courses that John undertook were delivered in his workplace around his shift pattern by Stow College’s TUC department.

John then undertook European Computer Driving Licence modules from October 2009. Having built up reasonable ICT skills John felt confident enough to embark on a degree in Engineering  with the Open University (BEng) in February 2010. To date John has passed all of his tutor marked assignments- John’s average scoring for the tutor marked assignments was 84%. John also passed his end of year exam with flying colours. These achievements now supplement John’s qualification from his apprenticeship and youth which include City & Guilds in Mechanical Engineering, City & Guilds CNC Basic Programming & City & Guilds Quality Assurance Part 1.

The Open University course that John is undertaking is made up of the usual distance learning with the addition of on site tutorials and support at John’s workplace of Rolls-Royce. This Pathway to a Degree programme is part of Unite, Rolls-Royce and the Open University’s learning programme at Rolls-Royce Inchinnan that facilitates opportunities in learning within the workplace for learners who would not have had them otherwise.

The learning programmes that John has undertaken in the last 3 years have made John a more confident person. They have also facilitated a development in his work role as well as his personal life. John has been empowered through learning to take on additional roles within his workplace team at Rolls-Royce Inchinnan.

John Malone is a living, breathing role model to all that you are never to old to return to learning. John has been an inspiration to others in his workplace to follow his road back into learning. John is now looking to put something back into learning by taking on some part time tutoring. The enthusiasm that John has shown for learning demonstrates that ordinary working people who work unsocial hours can get back into learning despite having been decades away from learning.

John Malone is a role model in learning for Unite the Union and John’s story is being cascaded out to other trade union members not only in Unite but across all trade unions in Scotland to encourage others to get back into learning.

If you to would like to embark on a Learning Journey please contact your local Union Learning Rep or Regional Learning Organiser.

Open University Pathway to a Degree programme at Rolls-Royce

7 Apr

– by Pat McIlvogue

Unite members at both Rolls-Royce Inchinnan and Rolls-Royce East Kilbride factories are undertaking an Engineering Degree programme with the Open University. We currently have a total of 30 members on the programme, with 18 at Inchinnan and 12 at East Kilbride.

The programme was developed to give our members opportunities to continue their journey in lifelong learning. It enables members who had served their apprenticeship but for various reasons could not carry on their vocational learning. This programme give members the opportunity to get back into learning and fits into the progression path that Unite provides for its members through our Lifelong Learning department in Scotland.

The results from this unique pilot programme have been fantastic with all members passing their monthly Tutor Marked Assessments and their end of year exam all with high pass marks. The Unite/Open University programme differs from normal Open University programmes; members on this programme enjoy all the usual support that the Open University gives to students but also benefit from one to one, face to face session with tutors within the workplace, group tutorial work carried out at the Glasgow Caledonian University on a Saturday morning, peer support groups within the workplace and Union Learning Rep support within the workplace. These support mechanisms have ensured a wonderful retention rate with drop out of students on the course significantly lower than normal Open University courses.

The progress of the programme is monitored by a Steering Group consisting of Unite Learning Organiser, the Open University Lead Tutors, Open University Business Manager, Rolls-Royce HR Business Partner and Rolls-Royce Production Leader. This Steering Group is a further support to members where any issues with the programme are managed.

The degree programme is funded through a Collective Learning Fund, with contributions from Rolls-Royce, Skills Development Scotland and the learners themselves.

Unite’s Lifelong Learning department in Scotland is set for further talks with the Open University to see what other sectors and employers that we can roll out this successful model for our members in Scotland. We will keep your workplace ULRs informed of developments – be in touch if you would like to be part of the programme.