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Learning unions are recruiting unions

As learning becomes increasingly a core role of unions, a new report shows that it can act as a powerful recruitment sergeant, bringing new people into the movement and encouraging members into greater activism.

Learning Journeys: trade union learners in their own words, by academics from London Metropolitan University's Working Lives Institute, found that Union Learning Fund projects and union-led learning were successful because union learning reps (ULRs) reach the most disadvantaged and those older workers who thought they would never have a second chance. The model of learning - either in workplace learning centres or by access to on-line courses - was popular, because it fitted in with workers' other commitments and was unlike their bad memories of school.

And it showed that union learning - now believed to be 10 per cent of all union activity - is persuading people to join up.

? One member stated that union learning had changed his opinion of the union because previously he had associated it with disputes and negative activity.

? One ULR said: 'I think that this is one way where we can encourage people to think widely about union membership, rather than them just seeing that unions are there if you have a problem.

? One rep said that union learning had made him more confident in himself and his dealings with management.

? While most learners and ULRs highlighted the social function of learning, there was also emphasis upon the importance of learning to employability and the national economy.

The report's authors concluded: 'Union learning can attract new members, reinforce union identity and can lead to wider democratic engagement and participation. At the same time there are learners who are not aware that learning is delivered by the union and this is clearly a missed opportunity.'

Tom Wilson, unionlearn director, said: 'The unionlearn mission is to 'transform workers' life chances through lifelong learning'. The value of the union learning model has been recognised by all political parties, and many influential employers. This research proves its value to learners, employers and as a tool for union recruitment. It makes a strong the case for unions to increase their learning activities.'

The report Learning Journeys: trade union learners in their own words, by Cilla Ross, Leena Kumarappan, Sian Moore and Hannah Wood, was launched today at the unionlearn annual conference in London. It can be obtained at: http://www.unionlearn.org.uk/publications/index.cfm?frmPubID=200


1. More than half of employers (55 per cent) say that their employees have improved their qualifications, thanks to union-led projects. As a result, nine out of ten say they will continue to be involved in union learning activities in the workplace. Two-thirds said there had been a benefit to the organisation and eight in ten said there had been a benefit to individuals. Almost three quarters said that it increased the demand for learning among those with poor basic skills and 28 per cent said it had boosted the uptake of training for those with high-level skills. 'Assessing the impact of union learning and the Union Learning Fund: union and employer perspectives' can be read in full at http://lubswww2.leeds.ac.uk/CERIC/index.php?id=373

2. A survey conducted by the University of Central Lancashire revealed that three-quarters of union learning reps had helped arrange courses for their colleagues and almost half had obtained funding for learning.

3. Unionlearn is in partnership with Martha Lane Fox's Race Online 2012 and its programme to bridge the digital divide. Union-led learning centres are spearheading a campaign to reach out to the nine million people who have never used the internet.

All unionlearn press releases can be found at www.unionlearn.org.uk

Media enquiries:
Frances Rafferty T: 020 7079 6950 M: 07827 813439 E:
James Asser T: 020 7079 6942 M: 07769 706104 E: jasser@tuc.org.uk

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