When Mark Church was redeployed from his manual maintenance job into a new, more technical role within Dŵr Cymru (Welsh Water), he worried that he didn’t have the right skills.
Now, thanks to Wales Union Learning Fund (WULF) courses, Mark has not only gained the skills he needs for this new role but has also discovered a love of learning and conquered his life-long problems with reading and writing.
He describes the difference the Essential Skills training has made as “like being let out of cage.”
Like many of us, Mark had a bad experience of learning at school. “I just didn’t enjoy it” he explains. “I found it hard to hear the teacher and it was difficult to concentrate when there was a lot of background noise and distraction in the class.” Mark also felt self-conscious about asking questions as he felt he didn’t learn as quickly as the others.
By the time he left school Mark still had difficulties with reading and writing. He says, “I couldn’t pick up and read a book or a newspaper like other people. I would always miss words, and have to re-read it several times over to try and understand it”. Although this was an issue that often worried him, Mark didn’t think there was much he could do about it.
It was with some relief that Mark put his school days behind him and started working at Dŵr Cymru at the age of 18. For many years he enjoyed working in the maintenance services division of the company.
After years at Dŵr Cymru Mark was told his job in maintenance was coming to an end due to modernisation and he was redeployed to work as a Network Inspector. This new job involved much more written work and required him to use a computer. “I panicked”, Mark says, “I realised I would no longer be able to get by with the level of skills I had.”
Mark wanted to do the work to the best of his ability but didn’t want to raise the issue with his manager. So he spoke to his workplace GMB union learning representative, Garry James. Mark’s union get involved Garry arranged for Mark to have a diagnostic assessment of his essential skills (reading, writing, communication, IT and number skills).
Garry and the lead union learning rep at Dŵr Cymru, Mike Wilson, arranged for Mark to attend training but Mark was nervous. He says, “I felt like an idiot if I had to ask a question and I was worried that others might snigger. I also had a lot of work on at the time and so it was difficult to attend all the sessions and keep up.” Mark spoke to Mike about his concerns who was able to make adjustments including one-to-one sessions in a quiet room and flexible start times.
This worked well for Mark who says, “it was much easier to focus at the one-to-ones and I was able to go over things again and again until I got them, without feeling daft or worrying that I was holding up other people in the class.”
Mark’s training has had a huge impact on his life and his ability to complete essential tasks at work. He says, “I feel like a new person – it is just one of the best things I’ve ever done. It has made such a difference that I am now able to read and understand text clearly. I am now able to complete the forms I need to do at work without a second thought. Before the training I would have struggled.”
As well as a huge boost to his confidence at work, Mark says the course has had positive effects at home. “It has given the whole family more confidence to go on and get a better education,” he says. “My wife now goes to college and I have been able to help her with the course. I am also able to help my daughter with her homework and offer advice on writing ideas. We’ve recently seen her school grades improve.”
On reflection, Mark describes the results of his Essential Skills training as “like being let out of cage.”
Not only is he keen to learn more himself and to help his family, Mark has become a GMB Union Learning Rep so he can help colleagues in his workplace find learning opportunities.
He explains, “I never would have had the confidence to do a role like this previously but now I feel that I know I can do it if I try, and I won’t give up. My experience is proof that it really is never too late to learn new skills. I’m now happy to go on a new course even if I don’t know anyone. Thanks to the courses I’ve met lots of new people and made new friends. I’ve got so much more confidence and the qualifications I’ve gained have opened up new opportunities for me.”
If you would like to find out about learning opportunities speak to your Union Learning Rep
This year WULF (Wales Union Learning Fund) is 20 years old - read more about WULF 20 celebrations
If you've done a WULF-funded course in the last 20 years we'd love to hear about the impact it's had on you: