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In her role as a CWU Union Learning Rep for BT and Openreach in South Wales Jan has helped organise courses and learning opportunities for hundreds of colleagues. Over the years this has included IT and keyboard skills, conflict management, mental health, first aid, CPR, stress and dementia awareness, and even stage make-up. But through helping others she discovered a surprising fact about herself.

Dyslexia in the workplace

Jan James, Union Learning Rep for BT and Openreach in South Wales
Jan James

Using Wales Union Learning Fund (WULF) money, Jan set up a workplace learning centre where staff can find online training courses and use the library.

To support colleagues who come to the centre with reading difficulties Jan trained as a dyslexia assessor.

She explains: “By identifying people's dyslexic tendencies we’ve been able to get the right support for them. This makes a huge difference. In several cases, when people were undiagnosed, managers had mistaken their difficulties for incapability and they have been threatened with the sack. But by getting the right support in place we’ve been able to help save people’s jobs.”

A ‘Eureka!’ moment

While attending a Dyslexia Awareness course a few years ago Jan had a surprise.

She says, “I didn’t do very well in school. I was told I was stupid and, as the ‘class clown’, was very disruptive. This was because it was easier to disrupt and get sent out of the class than to try to do the work. I have always found learning to be more difficult and it takes more time for me than it does for others. It was only years later that I had a ‘Eureka!’ moment when attending a course – I realised that I wasn’t thick, I had dyslexia! Knowing this took a huge weight off my shoulders and I was able to see myself in a new light.”

Watch Jan talk about the difference being a Union Learning Rep has made to hear life. 

New energy

Jan now has a newfound confidence and is keen to use this positive energy to help others. “Going through this experience myself is one of the many reasons why I want to continue to help and support adults getting back in to learning. I am able to be empathetic and offer help and advice to those with dyslexia.”

Jan is now busy as the Learning Coordinator for her branch, supporting many other ULRs across South Wales. But she always makes time for personal development. “I believe that, as a ULR, you must also become an ambassador for learning. And the only way that you can do this is by undertaking learning yourself. So I always attend training when I can, such as the Wales TUC seminars and networking events.”

Jan’s dedication has been recognised at a national level by her union, who presented her with the Ken McKenzie Lifelong Learning Award.

But Jan isn’t interested in slowing down! She has trained as an invigilator for Learndirect and has applied for WULF funding for her learning centre and courses for colleagues seeking to retrain. She says, “I was able to secure WULF funding for a couple of women who wanted to train to become classroom assistants. This was good timing for them because around this time the company announced they were transferring many staff from Newport to Cardiff. Doing the courses enabled them to move on to new jobs in their local area whereas without the training they might have been left without work. So I was very pleased that we were able to help with that.”

Win-win for employers and workers

Across the two companies there has been a marked increase in morale among staff who have done some training. As Jan explains, “Many staff have told me that they’ve found the courses have helped to boost their confidence and they’ve become quicker and more effective in their work. So the employer has seen the benefits as well with increased productivity, better morale and reduced sickness absence.”

If you would like to find out about learning opportunities speak to your Union Learning Rep. Or help others to access learning by following in Jan's footsteps and become a learning rep yourself! 

This year WULF (Wales Union Learning Fund) is 20 years old - read more about WULF 20 celebrations

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