Tag Archives: union learning

One year of trade union learning success at Kilmarnock engineering plant

14 Jun

Unite members at Mahle Engine Systems in Kilmarnock are celebrating the first anniversary of their highly successful trade union learning agreement, ‘Racing Forward with Learning at MAHLE Engine Systems’.

Last May the landmark agreement was signed by Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty and the German automotive manufacturer’s Site Manager Jim English, resulting in over 530 learning and training requests while delivering over 1,000 hours of learning in subjects like literacy support, German, pensions and industry-based accreditations.

The agreement also includes the provision of a bespoke on-site trade union learning facility and trade union office, 5 workplace learning representatives and a fortnightly union – management steering group to oversee the delivery of the workplace learning programme.

Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said, “This is a gold-standard learning agreement, a benchmark across the industry and the wider Scottish economy that demonstrates the value of trade unions and employers working together to deliver a learning agenda.

This huge demand for learning also reflects the appetite for up-skilling from our members in Kilmarnock – ably assisted by our hard-working Unite learning organisers who help deliver the programme – which they largely fulfill in their own time.

It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved but most importantly we are giving working people the opportunity to personally and collectively improve their skills and learning abilities – you cannot put a price on that.”

Alison Bryson Mahle Human Resource Manager said: “Entering into lifelong learning in a partnership approach with Unite learning reps on site has been really successful. Employees have been asked about their learning needs and courses have been arranged to meet those needs at times to suit both the company and the individuals. It’s really good to see people learning new skills”


Notes to Editors:

For further information please contact:

Pat Mcilvogue Unite Regional Learning Organiser on 07918631805;

Peter Welsh in the Unite Scotland Campaigns Unit on 07810157931; or

Alison Bryson, Head of Human Resources MAHLE Engine Systems Kilmarnock, on 07733301632.


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • MAHLE is a leading global development partner for the automotive and engine industry, MAHLE offers unique systems competence in the internal combustion engine and engine peripherals. The MAHLE Group ranks among the top three systems suppliers worldwide for piston systems, cylinder components, as well as valve train, air management, and liquid management systems. Almost all automobile and engine manufacturers around the world are customers of MAHLE



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.








MAHLE Engine Systems 1st Year of Learning Programme Successes

21 May

Pat Rafferty, Scottish Regional Secretary for Unite the Union signed a learning agreement between Unite – Scotland’s largest union & MAHLE Engine Systems on the 23rd May 2011 at the MAHLE Kilmarnock plant.

The agreement facilitated the training of 5 Unite Workplace Reps as Union Learning Reps (ULRs), the allocation of a Learning Centre for union lead learning, an office for a the lead ULR, the secondment of the lead ULR for 1 day a week to deal with learning and the set up of a joint union and management steering group to oversee the learning and training programme on site that meets on a fortnightly basis supported by a Unite Regional Learning Organiser.

The ULRs surveyed the learning and training needs of the workforce of the Kilmarnock plant. The Survey produced a total of 537 learning and training requests. This huge amount of learning requests demonstrates the progressive appetite for up-skilling on site from the Unite membership.

The aspiration of the workforce at MAHLE to build on their skills, knowledge and experience empirically demonstrates the desire of the membership at MAHLE engine systems to continue in up-skilling to be a viable skilled workforce for the German based employer.

Since the signing of the learning agreement in May 2011 Unite Union Learning Reps have delivered the following courses on site; Using Computers Stage 1, Literacy Support, Spanish, German, City & Guilds 17th Editions Wiring Regs, Understanding Pensions & Open University sessions. These courses have amounted to over 1,000 hours of learning being done on site since the signing of the learning agreement. All this in less than a year and most learning being delivered in members own time again displays the craving the workforce has for Lifelong Learning and up-skilling.

Please enjoy the short video we have compiled of comments from all involved in the learning programme this year. Special mention must also go to Claire McAvoy lead ULR for the MAHLE Kilmarnock site for her tireless dedication in bring opportunities to fellow workers at MAHLE

Janette Dunbar wins lifelong learning award

24 Apr

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) has announced that the recipient of this year’s STUC Helen Dowie Award for Lifelong Learning is Janette Dunbar, a Unite Union Learning Representative at Diageo in Kilmarnock.

Sponsored by Inverness College UHI, the award was be presented today by First Minister Alex Salmond MSP.

Diageo Kilmarnock was the home of Johnnie Walker Whisky. After the employer announced controversial plans in late 2009 to close the Kilmarnock plant, Janette was in the forefront of fighting to save the hundreds of jobs at the site. Upon being elected as the Site Convenor in 2010, Janette put her organising abilities and dynamic style into action as she became the driving force behind supporting members through the ‘ins and outs’ of the redundancy situation.

Janette decided that a lifelong learning programme for the site was the best avenue to support workers during the site closure. In February 2011, Janette was trained as a Union Learning Rep along with a group of other trade union activists. She then set about the task of analysing the learning and training needs of those who were faced with redundancy.

Unite member Myra Scoular said, “Facing redundancy was a daunting time, after working at Johnnie Walker for decades. I would not have had the confidence to try courses if it was not for Janette organising and bringing the courses into the workplace.”

Christine Duffy, another Unite member, said, “I have successfully completed a few courses, including computing and understanding pensions, and I will continue to learn when I leave Diageo. I would not have undertaken this journey if it was not for Janette and the other ULRs.”

In just over a year as the Lead Union Learning Rep for the site, Janette analysed 730 learning requests and collectively bargained around these with the employer and external learning partners, including PACE, to provide courses for Unite members at Diageo Kilmarnock. Janette addressed the frustration felt by the workers on site by organising learning opportunities in the workplace and delivering them around members’ shift times and days off.

Upon receiving the award, Janette said, “I am absolutely delighted to receive this honour. It has been a great learning curve for me and it has been even better to have shared the experience with so many people along the way who now have the confidence to take learning to another level.”

The STUC established the STUC Helen Dowie Award for Lifelong Learning in 2006 to commemorate Helen Dowie’s lifetime achievements in lifelong learning and to recognise other outstanding trade unionists who demonstrate their commitment to union values and lead the learning movement forward in Scotland. The award is administered by Scottish Union Learning.

Grahame Smith, STUC General Secretary, said:

“In the current atmosphere of austerity, many workers in Scotland face concerns about their prospects and future job security. By offering learning opportunities, unions are enhancing the life chances of the workforce as a whole.

“For her unfailing commitment to the trade union movement, put into practise as a Union Learning Rep in supporting the people she has worked with for most of her life, Janette Dunbar is a shining example of how Union Learning Reps can help shape a better future for their colleagues and her actions at Diageo Kilmarnock demonstrate the relevance of trade unions in the modern workplace.”

Pat Rafferty, Unite Scottish Secretary, said:

“Unite is delighted that Janette Dunbar has received the STUC Helen Dowie Award in recognition for the work she has done for Unite members at Diageo Kilmarnock as Lead Union Learning Rep and Convenor for the site.

“Janette and her team of ULRs have given opportunities in learning and training to members facing redundancy at Diageo Kilmarnock that would not have been possible without her drive, dedication and determination.

“It should not be forgotten that the learning programme at Diageo Kilmarnock would not have been successful without facility agreements around paid release for union representatives.

“Yet again, this award demonstrates the positive contribution that Unite Union Representatives make to the workplace where decent facility time is allocated to them.”

Pauline Rooney, Diageo Kilmarnock Site Director, said:

“We are delighted that Janette has been recognised by the STUC for this prestigious award. It recognises the unstinting support that she provided to her colleagues in what was a very difficult time at Diageo Kilmarnock. By championing the benefits of training and bringing tailored courses to the site, she encouraged many people who would not have previously considered training to extend their horizons. Her contribution played a key role in securing the best outcomes for our people through the closure programme and for that, we extend our thanks.

David Hosey, Inverness College UHI Vice Principal, said:

“As both a college for the community and a key partner in the establishment and continuing development of the University of the Highlands and Islands, Inverness College has an inherent interest in Lifelong Learning. The Board of Management and all staff are fully committed to providing support, encouragement and guidance, to attract potential learners and fully support their individual needs as they progress through the learner journey. We are therefore proud and delighted to sponsor the STUC Helen Dowie Award for 2012. The example provided embodies the ethos of supporting others and helping them reach their full potential. Well done Janette!”

Lifelong Learning Booklet

16 Apr

We have published a new version of the lifelong learning booklet, with details of what is available to Unite members. You can download a copy below, or request hard copies by emailing Walton.


Unite learning booklet

Award ceremony at RBS Greenock

20 Jan

A group of Unite union learners recently participated in an awards ceremony at the Royal Bank of Scotland mortgage centre in Greenock.

The learners were presented with certificates by Stow College for courses they completed in Understanding Pensions and Computing. The courses were delivered as part of the active lifelong learning project on that site.

The learning programme was launched on 15 July last year, and a learning survey was conducted, gaining 226 responses – more than a quarter of the workforce. The learning programme was designed to meet this need. In addition to the courses mentioned above, there are also courses running in Spanish and British Sign Language, with a further British Sign Language course due to start on 24 January, and Communications on 1 February.

To address some of the higher level skills, the Open University will hold an open day on site on 27 January. We hope to be able to replicate the successful partnership programme we have with the OU at Rolls-Royce.

The lifelong learning programme at RBS Greenock started when ULR Sonya Cassidy and workplace rep Stephen McCauley did their training in November 2010. After meeting with management in February and developing a plan, the lifelong learning project was officially launched in July last year, with the open day and online survey.

Sonya and Stephen have also succeeded in recruiting other reps, and are in the process of setting up a workplace branch. They have also created a branch website.

By organising at work, creating effective structures and having visible union activity that responds to members’ needs, the reps have been very successful at recruiting too. RBS Greenock is a Unite 100% target, meaning it is a workplace where we have recognition, but we’re working to increase our density and quality of representation. When Sonya and Stephen came on board, density on site was very low. It has since risen by more than a 100%, and new members are continuing to join, encouraged by the reps effective response to their needs.

Because this approach has been so successful, we are hoping to be able to replicate it at other RBS and finance sector sites.



Unite Adult Apprentices in ScotRail

28 Nov

Adult Apprenticeship to SVQ Level 3 and a National Certificate in Mechanical & Electrical Engineering. 

– by Pat McIlvogue

Unite negotiated and organised with ScotRail an apprenticeship programme to facilitate progression paths through the skills grades for our members. This group of members had hit a “glass ceiling” within the employer as they were not accredited as being skilled despite having a huge amount of skills, knowledge & experience. The group were all semi-skilled “B” grade fitters with ScotRail. This apprenticeship will allow them to have the opportunity to move to the skilled “A” grade position within ScotRail or will give them the opportunity to gain skilled employment elsewhere. This progression would not be possible without this qualification.

The Adult Apprenticeship programme was negotiated and arranged by Unite, train drivers’ union Aslef, ScotRail & SEMTA. Prior to the commencement of the apprenticeship, the members undertook an Open College Network accredited “Brush Up Your Skills Course” arranged and delivered by Unite & Aslef through Stow College’s trade union education department. This course gave our members the confidence and skills to undertake the National Certificate studies & the skills to compile the portfolio for the SVQ Level 2 & SVQ Level 3. This everyday skills support was beneficial as a lot of our members had been away from learning for over 20 years prior to commencing the apprenticeship.

All 9 members who under took the apprenticeship programme have completed their studies to SVQ Level 3 and have completed a National Certificate in Mechanical & Electrical Engineering within the last 2 years. They have combined practical knowledge with vocational learning and are now accredited as being skilled. They now have national industry recognized qualifications that will allow them to progress to skilled positions within ScotRail or if they wish gain skilled employment with another employer.

The next step for our group of learners is have their skills utilized within the workplace & to achieve “A” grade status within ScotRail. Having completed the training our members are undertaking CV & interview training provided by Unite, Aslef and Stow College.

In undertaking this apprenticeship programme our members overcame many barriers. Some of these were being away from learning for over 20 to 30 years in some instances, doubt that the employer was committed to the scheme, doubt that the skilled workforce within ScotRail would recognize their apprenticeship as being “pucker”, learning in their own time, attending night school, incorporating learning into their rotating shift patterns and still managing to for fill their substantive role as a “B” Grade Fitter within ScotRail. It is testimony to the groups determination that they have overcame all of the above and completed their Apprenticeship & their National Certificate in Mechanical & Electrical Engineering.

The entire group’s lives have been changed by undertaking union lead learning as they are now more confident & importantly accredited skilled workers. This progression path in learning that Unite & Aslef has created & negotiated has facilitated the opportunity for our members to break that glass ceiling on progression with ScotRail & indeed within all employers within this sector.

This group of adult union learners is particularly exemplary as they were a pilot group around skills utilization within the workplace, that looks to take the skills, knowledge & experience that workers have in a workplace and put them to use. This is matches with the Scottish Government policy of Skills Utilization. It is now hoped that this model can be rolled out across employers and sectors. Our members at ScotRail have now set the paradigm for others to follow.