Unions have a vital role to play in the economy's growth

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date: March 7, 2011

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Unions have a vital role to play in the economy's growth

Responding to today's (March 7), announcement of the £50 million Growth and Innovation Fund to boost investment and training and to help businesses develop the skills they need to drive growth, Tom Wilson, director of unionlearn, said: 'Unions have a vital role in improving workplace training and skills. Union Learning Fund projects have encouraged four out of ten employers to make a financial contribution to union learning activities (the average investment was £23,000). However, many more provided contributions in kind, for example equipment, office space and time off for reps and employees. Bombardier Transportation, in the East Midlands, calculated that its in-kind contributions amounted to £80,000 a year. Training is crucial if the UK is to compete in the global economy and the Government is right to encourage companies to improve the skills of their employees.'

A survey by Leeds University showed that more than half of employers (55 per cent) said that their employees improved their qualifications, thanks to union-led projects. The survey also found that while four in ten employers state that learning activities would continue without external funding, more than a quarter (28 per cent) disagreed.


The report by Leeds University's Centre for Employment Relations Innovation and Change surveyed 415 employers, which employed around 1 million employees. It found that just over two-thirds of employers (68 per cent) reported that union-led projects had led to employees with little history of learning taking up courses; 71 per cent said the demand for learning increased among those with poor basic skills and 28 per cent said union-led projects boosted learning of high-level skills.

The Leeds University report found that Union Learning Fund projects are inclusive with more than nine out of ten projects opening up learning opportunities to non-union members and one third of projects targeted a specific ethnic or minority group. 'Assessing the impact of union learning and the Union Learning Fund: union and employer perspectives,' by Professor Mark Stuart, Hugh Cook Jo Cutter and Professor Jonathan Winterton, of Leeds University Business School's Centre for Employment Relations Innovation and Change can be read in full athttp://lubswww2.leeds.ac.uk/CERIC/index.php?id=373

Labour Force Survey statistics reveal that a third of employers do not provide training for their staff.

Collective learning funds are union-led initiatives to stimulate co-investment in the personal development of the workforce to make such learning affordable and accessible. They are a way of levering in cash and in-kind contributions from employers, providers, unions and individuals. The aim is to establish a framework of mutual trust and co-operation whereby employers are willing to invest more in the personal development of their workforce provided that the employee and the state also make a contribution, and vice versa. Collective learning funds are often underpinned by a learning agreement between management and the union(s) and delivered through a joint union/management learning committee. 'A Shared Responsibility for Skills'http://www.unionlearn.org.uk/policy/learn-3796-f0.cfm

Case Study

A collective learning fund project was established by the TUC in the North West to help define a strategy for joint-funding. Funding was provided by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Unions were asked to make bids to join the project and those that were successful received £4,000 start-up funding for running the workplace pilots.

While 20 had 'in-kind' contributions from employers, eight received cash contributions from employers (varying from small sums to pay travel expenses to, in one case, £20,000).

Overall, six pilots negotiated cash contributions from colleges (based on course completions) and a further two negotiated 'free' courses from colleges. Most of the pilots used some of their CLF funding to make learning affordable by subsidising courses, supporting an individual or providing low-interest or interest-free loans. In one case, the provider paid 20 per cent of the course fee back into the CLF on the delivery of the ITQ qualification.

Employees on the schemes were taking up NVQs at Level 2, and ICT and Skills for Life courses. They were also taking up non accredited learning such as British Sign Language, Dyslexia and deaf awareness, introductory Spanish, bricklaying and plastering, and digital photography. In one pilot, a number of staff at the Land Registry, going through changes and facing potential redundancies, wanted to retrain as teaching assistants using the NVQ Level 2 teaching qualification.

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

Media enquiries:
Frances Rafferty T: 020 7079 6950 M: 07827 813439 E: [email protected]
James Asser T: 020 7079 6942 M: 07769 706104 E: [email protected]

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