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The workplace & skills

The TUCs unionlearn programme has been established to help unions to develop and diversify their learning programmes. Unionlearn intends to transform unions to learning organisations. It has programmes for union reps and regional officers, while also providing strategic support for national officers. Unionlearn assists unions to mediate learning opportunities for its members, provide online and phone services, to help members. Unionlearn researches on the priorities of the union’s learning and skills, identifies and promotes good practices and help in the formation of sector skills agreement.

The formation of unionlearn in 2006 after the statutory recognition of ULRs in 2002, was to support and develop union led learning. There is no doubt on the possibilities of the union-led learning. The Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) had carried out a research for assessing the demand for union-led learning, in 2006. The survey revealed an enormous demand for union-led learning. Anticipating demand, the TUC estimates about 250,000 union learners in England by the year 2010.

The survey revealed that individuals, who were most likely to take up learning through the union, were about 2. 5 times more likely to say that they intend to learn, compared to those who did not. It was also seen that the advice, support and encouragement provided in workplaces, contributed immensely to the individual taking up learning opportunities. Case studies point out several individual workers who were previously out of the realm of Union involvement in workplace learning 9 learning have once again been brought into it.

A unionlearn random postal survey has highlighted an enormous latent demand for learning. Over 96% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that it is important to always be learning. People also wanted to take to learning for various reasons. About 81% of people wanted to study for their personal development or as a leisure time activity, while 56% wanted to learn, to benefit at their work. The survey also highlighted the presence of barriers to learning. About 59% of the respondents felt that they wont be paid for the off-work time, used in study.

About 47% felt that they could not afford the fees. Another 47% would take up learning if supported by a union rep, trained to advice on learning. About 50% of the employees wanted the delivery of learning in sessions of small groups, while 22% wanted it through a combination of several methods or blended learning. This highlighted a considerable mismatch in the learning methods offered. Information Advice and Guidance (IAG) delivery Unionlearn developed the Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) strategy to support learners, based on their needs.

This strategy of the unionlearn to support learners is based on a network model, which connects IAG providers. The strategy emphasizes that ULRs need to be in contact with other agencies to get information relevant for their members and also to broker new workplace opportunities. The network is formed of the ULRs and other union reps, learning and career advice services, workplace learning centres, adult further and higher education, employers and sector skills councils. The relationships between unionlearn and IAG network providers, at the regional and national level had

Union involvement in workplace learning 10 been strengthened. Through this network, new resources and training modules were made available for union reps and union learners. IAG network helped in promoting unionlearn to several outside organisations and encouraged joint working with unions. In fact, the implementation of IAG has succeeded in getting attention from EU and also served as an inspiration to unions in other countries. TUC and LSC protocol In April 2003, the administration of the Union Learning Fund (ULF) was transferred to the Learning and Skills Council (LSC).

The ULF is administered at the national level by the LSC, which has supported over 30 trade unions in nearly 500 projects with an investment of ? 59 million. The trade unions associated with projects access relevant online databases, receive advice on appropriate practices and also get contractual information. An external assessment of the learning fund has concluded that the fund has contributed significantly to the success of bringing awareness and increasing participation in learning.

The association TUC and LSC intends to establish working arrangements at all levels, to support union learning projects and union learning representatives. TUC supports the network of union members of LSCs and other LSC groups, so as to improve their effectiveness in implementing the learning agenda. The association of the Northern Regional TUC and the LSCs in the region has created a successful, unique and innovative relationship. As a result of this association, over 500 union learning representatives and 9700 adults have benefited in learning through the Northern TUC learning for all (LFA) projects.

There are around 130 employers associated with trade unions on learning Union involvement in workplace learning 11 initiatives. These show the effectiveness of the partnership; with the learning fund not only facilitating learning but also helping in quicker assessments of learner’s needs. In the Southern and Eastern regions, several formal and informal initiatives have been formed to ensure effective working relationships. An highlight of this joint working is the fact that the London LSCs are involved in training 800 union learning representatives at a cost of ?

330,000. Union role in development of high skills economy The unions have been mostly involved in improving the supply of skills and learning. They also have a considerable role in raising the demand and usage of skills by the employer. Several economists are of the opinion that UK has a ‘low skills equilibrium’ with organisations competing in generally low quality, low costs environments. This therefore demands only limited skills from their workforce.

The employer demand and utilization of skills has been limited by several factors including systematic problems in the financial markets, management policies, structure of domestic demand etc. Unions are aware of the need to address the issue of skills utilisation. Even after two decades of decline in trade union, the British unions have not been able to stall low wage strategies. Unions remain focused or trying to influence governmental policies. One way of influencing the demand for skills would be for unions to link their learning agenda to broader initiatives in job design and utilisation of skills in the workplace.

Union learning reps could consult with the management and chalk out better utilisation of employee skills and abilities. However sceptics believe that the management would not respond Union involvement in workplace learning 12 positively to the ULRs in this regard. Also many employers would not like ULRs to have a role in job design. Therefore for any progress in this direction, the unions need to be well organised. Despite these adverse situations, it is necessary for the unions to associate the learning activities to a broader agenda in the workplace.

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