Learning for Success in RBS

25 May

The lifelong learning agenda has been gaining momentum for a while now, but it has been generating new interest recently due to a number of high-profile successes across several workplaces.  These represent not just success for organising, learning or membership numbers, but success for our members at the grass-roots level, with more and more accessing opportunities which previously they have never been able to.  The Royal Bank of Scotland Mortgage Centre at Greenock is a fantastic example of this.

In November 2010 the site had a very low density of members, and a number of industrial issues, with a need for a clear strategy to organise around.  With this in mind Unite decided to use learning as a tool to engage and educate members, and encourage non-members to join. The first step in this process was the recruitment of Union Learning Rep Sonya Cassidy, who is a passionate advocate of learning in the workplace and has become a driving force in the success of this programme.

Sonya’s motivation to improve life for her members, and to recruit new members was evident from the beginning, and activity began straight away when she completed her training as a ULR. It was clear that in order to get the project going the buy-in of the employer was essential, and working together with Workplace Rep Stephen McCauley, Sonya successfully achieved an agreement from the bank in February 2011 to organise a comprehensive workplace learning programme.

With the employer buy-in secured Sonya and Stephen met with Stow College to discuss their workplace learning programme and look at the courses which would be most relevant and interesting to staff at the bank.  Stow put together a bespoke offering of courses which would best meet the aims and needs of the RBS Greenock workforce.  Working to ensure there was a structure in place on site to support this course offering, Sonya and Stephen negotiated again with the employer to secure appropriate facilities for the courses to be run on-site at times which would best suit staff members.

Having been successful in securing courses and facilities, the next step was to engage the staff on-site, members and non-members alike.  A learning survey was put together to allow information to be gathered on people’s learning interests, and this was formally unveiled at the official programme launch at the site on 15 July 2011.  Sonya and Stephen set up a union stall where people could come and speak to them about learning, discuss their aspirations and find out more about what opportunities were available to them.  The launch itself was incredibly well attended, with 221 people completing the survey on the day and many people joining up because of the learning on offer.  This was a huge boost to the reps who had put so much work into the event, and a positive sign of things to come.

As a learning programme and facilities had already been secured, Sonya and Stephen were able to move quickly to analyse the survey results, select the most popular courses from Stow’s curriculum, and get the courses started.  This was a powerful demonstration of how Unite can quickly respond to its members’ needs, and how union-led learning is truly driven by the needs of the learners themselves.  The buzz created on-site was remarkable; the increased level of union activity resulted in a visible increase in the confidence of staff members in their ability to raise industrial issues and change things for the better in their workplace.  Not only this, but the increase in member density at this site surpassed expectations, rising from just 6% in November 2010 to 25% today.  This is hugely important as the Greenock site is a 100% Campaign target, and the success the reps have had through combining learning and organising is clear evidence this strategy work and could be a key path to increasing Unite’s membership in all sectors.

BSL learners receive their certificates at RBS Greenock

The first course run was Understanding Pensions which began in September 2011, and since then learners have completed Computing level 1, Communications and British Sign Language introductory and level 1 courses.  The momentum of the programme has continued, with courses currently running in Spanish and British Sign Language level 2, and a further Understanding Pensions intake, with learners due to complete these in June and August.  So far, 33 learners have completed the courses and there are a further 30 learners on the courses currently running.  The enthusiasm for the courses is evident in all those who attend, and alongside the excellent learning experiences which learners are having they are all achieving qualifications as all courses are accredited.

Sonya and Stephen are delighted with the benefits they are bringing to their colleagues, and the new members they are bringing into Unite.  At the beginning of 2012 they also recruited a new Workplace Rep, Yvonne Milloy, and the activity on site has benefited further from her positive attitude and enthusiasm in raising the profile of Unite and the lifelong learning agenda.  The team are already focused on the road ahead and plan to organise several new courses such as  Accounts, Computing, Spanish levels 1 & 2, Italian and an Employment Rights courses to run in the remainder of 2012.  Sonya told me how the programme is branching out:

“I now have a contact in one of our local branches in Greenock, so I see an opportunity for the learning programme to reach out beyond the Greenock Mortgage Centre. I believe that if we include the branches not only will it help with the numbers on the courses but it will also increase the attention and interest in Unite . We work closely with the branches here at the Greenock Mortgage Centre and a lot of our staff have family and friends working in different areas of the Bank.”

The ongoing activity around the learning programme continues to attract new members, with several new applications coming in on a weekly basis, and the positive interest generated among the staff will no doubt result in the density increasing even further.  The learning project in RBS shows us what an inclusive, supportive and active union Unite is, and is a wonderful example of how reps can make a real difference to their members, and to the membership of the union as a whole.









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