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Appendix 1: learning services task group

Issue date

Appendix 1: learning services task group report


Summary of proposals

The Task Group proposes:

Union 'learning' representative

- developing a national network of union ÔlearningÕ representatives and supporting them by:

  • campaigning for their role

  • setting standards for their role

  • providing high quality accredited training

  • developing a TUC/union award

  • developing networks for on-going information and support

  • continuing to build the case for a strong framework of statutory rights

University for Industry (Ufl)

- developing a strategy to maximise the union role in UfI by:

  • promoting and marketing UfI to members, and employers

  • developing a UfI taster course for trade union members, explaining what it is, how to use it, and basic Information Communication Technology (ICT) skills for using technologically driven learning programmes

  • ensuring union >learning= representatives have the know-how to assist members to access UfI

  • negotiating agreements with employers that incorporate UfI membership and access

  • setting up TUC/UfI access points in Trade Union studies Centres, workplace learning centres, TUC unemployed centres, union colleges and regional offices etc.

  • linking UfI to Individual Learning Accounts (ILA=s) and union membership schemes

  • monitoring and feeding back information on the quality of the UfI framework

  • developing a TUC/union UfI facility for trade union education programmes linked to TUC Education on-line

  • exploring ways of facilitating member=s access to good quality hard and software at discount prices, as part of union membership schemes

TUC/union Gateway to Learning

- developing a TUC/union Gateway to Learning by :

  • working with partner providers to set up a one-stop shop for unions which provides advice, guidance, commissions work and supports it effectively

  • evaluating programmes against a TUC quality kitemark

  • increasing number and range of TUC and union-led learning programmes

  • developing a whole institution policy which is union-friendly and draws on the expertise of the trade union community

TUC/union quality kitemark

- developing a TUC/union quality kitemark for learning (piloted in workplace learning centres but potentially applicable to other providers) by:

  • working with key organisations to develop a kitemark

  • emphasising partnership, equality of access, respect and support for learners amongst the criteria

  • linking the kitemark to the TUC/union Gateway to Learning

Union >learning= membership schemes

l developing and piloting union >learning= membership schemes that link membership with UfI and/or employee development schemes and ILAs

  • supporting collective approaches to ILA=s through >learning= Credit Unions

Union strategy for basic and key skills

- developing a TUC/union strategy on basic and key skills by:

  • assisting union >learning= representatives negotiate with employers and providers for more workplace basic skills programmes, and access to key skills at all levels of learning

  • equipping union >learning= representatives to help members with poor basic skills

  • working with unions to develop union friendly and supported basic and key skills multi-media learning programmes

Communications/Marketing strategy on learning

- developing an effective communications/marketing strategy on lifelong learning by:

  • working with unions to develop a >union brand= for movement-wide programmes, such as UfI and ILA membership schemes

  • developing a brand which coherently presents a range of activities on lifelong learning

  • working towards a common name, branding and materials for TUC >Bargaining for Skills=

  • developing a communications and marketing strategy for union work on lifelong learning

  • carrying out opinion poll research to explore awareness amongst partner organisations of trade union activity on learning, and to test the trade union >learning market=

Identifying resources

- securing resources to support TUC and union work on lifelong learning by:

  • targeting more TUC and union resources on learning, and producing action plans on how to implement the Task Group agenda

  • securing longer term funding for TUC Bargaining for Skills projects

  • ensuring Union Learning Fund (ULF) is effectively monitored and evaluated in order to maximise its effectiveness, and established as a long term fund

  • maximising the contribution of ILA=s to workplace learning

  • being pro-active in seeking external funds to support this work

Unions on the learning curve

Towards a learning society

At long last there is a real political will to create a learning society. There is recognition at the highest level that in today=s global economy, ignorance costs more than education in terms of lost competition and social exclusion. The Government=s Green Paper The Learning Age has a refreshing breadth of vision in its objectives for lifelong learning. What is now needed is a strategy and statutory framework which addresses the nation=s skills gap and meets the training and development needs of a modern workforce. It requires powerful incentives both to open up basic and key skills training as well as to upgrade the existing skills of technical and professional workers.

In spite of the considerable expansion in further and higher education over the last 50 years, there is still a yawning learning divide in Britain. Those who left full-time education at the earliest opportunity and have few skills and low pay, have less learning and earning opportunities than those who have benefitted from further and higher education paid for by the taxpayer. The maxim has seemed to be: >if you don=t first succeed, you never succeed=.

Participation must be widened; not just increased. The new lifelong learning culture is about opening windows of opportunity; not slamming doors on people the system has failed. It is about giving people a second chance to learn and making these opportunities available throughout their life. It is about enabling people to acquire the competence and confidence to enhance their employability and to increase their career chances in a world of rapid changes in markets, technology and work organisation. More than this, a learning society is about developing active citizens with the skills to learn and to participate in a democratic society within their workplace and local communities.

Trade unions could help ignite a learning revolution in this country. They make up the largest voluntary organisation in Britain. TUC unions represent 6.75 million employees - all potential learners.

A shared commitment

To develop a learning society requires both commitment from unions and all the other stakeholders:

l a commitment by the employer to invest not just in the job-specific requirements of the employee but also in his or her personal development needs.

l a commitment by the employee to take more responsibility for and ownership of their own learning throughout his or her working life.

l a commitment by the state to provide lifetime entitlements and support for employees

l a commitment by trade unions to promote and deliver quality lifelong learning opportunities to their members

As the Fryer Report Learning for the Twenty First Century states, a learning society needs to usher in a Ashift towards a greater sharing of responsibility for lifelong learning between individuals, employers and the state@. It requires enterprises to become learning organisations, for workers to become learners and for the state to provide a framework of entitlements, incentives and support.

The learning divide

Both the Fryer Report and Kennedy Reports identify a >learning divide= at work and in society as a whole. The most highly qualified have the most active involvement in learning throughout their lives whilst the least qualified make up most of the non-participants.

As few as 41 per cent of employees received off -the -job training last year. The average days off-the-job training actually dropped from 5.3 to 3.2 days a year between 1996 and 1997. With only 43 per cent of the workforce having level 3 qualifications, it is highly unlikely that we are likely to reach the national target of 60 per cent by the end of the year 2000. Although 30 per cent of the workforce are benefitting from involvement in the Investors in People Standard, vast numbers of employees working for small and medium sized enterprises remain untouched by the standard.

As the labour market tightens, serious skill shortages are appearing in certain sectors such as IT which will hamper economic growth. There is also the real fear that without access to basic and key skills many people will become unemployed and unemployable.

Entitlements to learning

The trade union movement has over the years argued that there will be substantial numbers of people who are lowly paid with few if any qualifications and with little say at their workplace, who need entitlements to lifelong learning if they are to keep employed and acquire basic and key skills.

The ILO Convention on Paid Educational Leave as early as 1974 proposed that each member state develop policies to introduce such leave in respect of a number of objectives. These included general, social and civic education and the provision of workers with skills to adapt to change as well as to promote their human, social and cultural advancement. Trade unions as well as the public authorities were to be associated with the formulation of policy for paid educational leave but little was done in this country to implement the Convention.

The Government have already introduced some basic entitlements to learning. The New Deal for the unemployed includes the right to training leading to recognised qualifications. The Right to Study initiative gives a statutory right to all 16 and 17 year olds without a level 2 qualification to time off for study.

The Kennedy Report Learning Works has gone further and proposed a universal entitlement for all to acquire a level 3 qualification; to meet the needs of those who are socially and economically deprived. Such entitlements to lifelong learning will need to include access to guidance, childcare and help toward tuition fees and study costs such as books.

The role of unions

Unions have the unique relationship with their members. They can help them raise and achieve their aspirations by linking them to learning opportunities. Unions can get reach the people that the education service has never been able to get to; including the 36 per cent of adults who left school at the earliest opportunity and have not taken any formal learning since. Unions can explain the benefits of learning in the context of the workplace and their members, everyday life.

Trade unions can help employees access learning which not only meets the needs of the employer but their personal and career needs. The short term requirements of companies and the lifelong needs of employees will not automatically co-incide. Most employers are primarily concerned about the specific training needs of their business; employees need broader personal development to enhance their career progression. Some employers will want to train employees for narrow tasks to limit them being >poached=; employees will want to acquire portable skills and recognised qualifications. Most employers will be reluctant to train part-time and temporary staff; such staff require skills to enhance their employability.

Union representatives can play key roles in promoting, negotiating, planning, supporting, delivering and monitoring lifelong learning for their members.

The trade union movement has a long history of involvement in the provision of liberal adult education for working people through its involvement in the Mechanics Institutes, the Labour Colleges, the Workers Education Association and adult education colleges such as Ruskin. There has also been a strong tradition of trade union education; equipping union representatives with the knowledge and understanding to defend and promote the industrial, social and political interests of their members. Until recently however there has been little union involvement in vocational training: the notable exception being the traditional craft unions and their involvement in apprenticeship training. This is changing rapidly.

Adding value to the union card

Trade unionists represent a huge market of potential learners. The union membership card needs to become an >access card= to learning. Lifelong learning for union members and their families could become an important service in unions, recruiting more members- especially young people with their careers in front of them. Much is already being done by some unions to provide a learning service directly to their members or indirectly through negotiating training agreements.

There is now substantial evidence that unions can add value to learning:

  • workers in unionised workplaces are 10 per cent more likely to be offered training and participate in it

  • demand for learning can be increased through unions putting pressure on employers to invest in training

  • the presence of unions can open up channels of communication between management and union representatives which is needed to embed effective, shared learning strategies

  • union reps can help to increase the awareness of their members to the benefits of learning opportunities and provide them with basic information and guidance

  • union involvement in and ownership of the learning process can increase employee commitment to and participation in learning; the FORD EDAP scheme is an excellent example.

A new framework for workplace learning

Such positive union involvement is very much dependant on union representatives having the understanding and skills to help promote and deliver lifelong learning at the workplace. In developing such union capacity we need to create a union >learning= representative. Just as health and safety representatives have helped create safer workplaces; union >learning= representatives could help create learning workplaces. That is what our union learning services proposals aim to do.

The Fryer Report suggested a code of good practice for workplace learning. This would include workplace policy statements, joint union/employer learning committees and joint learning agreements. There is also a case for such a code of practice to be given statutory underpinning in workplaces where union recognition has been achieved. This requires the Fairness at Work legislation automatically covering training by an award of trade union recognition.

There is also a need for a statutory framework to secure the right of employees to access broad learning opportunities, and the responsibility of the employer to provide job specific training. These issues are developed in our comments on the Government=s Green Paper.

Background to the report

Following a special meeting of the General Council of the TUC in October 1997, at which members considered key areas in which the TUC and unions could add value to the opportunities available to members, a new TUC >Learning Services= Task Group was set up with the following remit:

To develop practical proposals for implementation which are designed to provide a high profile role for the TUC and trade unions as providers and/or facilitators of vocational and other learning opportunities for members and potential members.

The Task Group, Chaired by Jimmy Knapp, General Secretary of RMT, is made up of General Council members, national officers responsible for lifelong learning, and a small number of external experts. It was charged with reporting on its remit by 1998 Congress.

At its first meeting, the Task Group identified two broad aims for its work. Firstly, to identify how union action on learning could add value to union membership, offering members and potential members access to new opportunities, and contributing to wider union strategies for both organisation and partnership at the workplace.

Secondly, to make a positive contribution to achieving the vision of the >Learning Age=, by generating demand for and supporting workplace learning, and maximising the benefits available from these new opportunities to members, and potential members.

In order to identify the range and depth of existing activities, a mapping activity was carried out which confirmed the strength of the union and TUC commitment to lifelong learning.

Union investment in learning

This activity demonstrated that the TUC and unions are involved in an extensive range of work on learning, backed up by a significant financial investment, both in money and time of voluntary representatives.

The TUC and unions spend over ,10 million per annum of their own funds on training officers, representatives and members.

The TUC is Britain=s largest voluntary organisation and union representatives already spend a huge amount of their own time supporting their members learning, and learning themselves.

In conjunction with partner institutions, a further estimated ,15 million a year is generated through TUC learning programmes. This is reinvested to support facilities and resources in Colleges/Universities and WEA courses.

Over ,15 million per year is generated and reinvested through the TUC=s work with partner providers

Most TUC and union education programmes are now externally accredited (often by the National Open College Network, NOCN). This has added value to trade union education programmes and is regarded as a bonus by representatives whose achievements contribute to National Targets for Education and Training. Independent research indicates that the TUC is a national exemplar of good practice. Some individual unions have their courses, particularly distance learning programmes accredited by higher education institutions which offer progression to other areas of advanced study.

Full-time officers can achieve professional qualifications (NVQs) at the TUC NEC, under the auspices of the Employment NTO.

In the two years since NOCN accreditation was introduced on TUC courses, 100,000 credits, mostly at Levels 2 and 3, have been achieved by trade union and health and safety representatives.

Some unions develop and deliver programmes in partnership with universities, supporting representatives and officers to access higher level qualifications (to degree and post graduate level).

Unions themselves can positively demonstrate their roles as learning organisations by committing to Investors in People and developing a strategy for training their workforce.

Providing/facilitating learning for members

As well as providing union officers and representatives programmes that reflect best practice in modern approaches to teaching and learning, trade unions deliver and facilitate other learning opportunities for members.

The TUC with partner colleges runs an extensive programme of IT training for members at evenings, weekends and on a drop-in basis.

Some unions provide training direct to their members, or to employers who recognise their expertise and draw on it for employer/union, as well as manager and supervisor training.

The AEEU has a national college of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, which provides short, specialised and tailor-made training courses based on NVQ standards, task analyses and skills audits.

The GMB set up GTS (GMB Training Services) following approaches from employers wanting assistance with health and safety and human resource management

Some unions, supported by TECs and other partners, provide training direct to members who need to continually update their skills, in order to maintain their employment, or to unemployed members wanting to get back into the labour market.

UCATT with other unions and a partner college has provided an extensive programme of safety training for members.

The GPMU, with Gloucestershire TEC set up a Centre with the latest industry standard software and high quality hardware, for training accessible to unemployed as well as employed members

The NUJ is developiong an extensive programme of training geared to the needs of its self employed members.

Unions, inspired by UNISON=s >Return to Learn= programme, are seeking to develop opportunities that positively support their members= basic skill needs, backed up by support from employers.

UNISON, usually in partnership with the WEA, recruits over 1,000 members per year to >Return to Learn=. Nearly 60 per cent of participants go on to further education or training.

Some unions have set up parallel organisations to deliver/facilitate training with partner providers and employers in some cases. They ensure that the programmes meet the specific needs of their members, and are often able to secure agreements on discounted fees.

EMA with other unions have set up Way Ahead Training Ltd, and commissioned new courses for its members at post graduate level

Unions in the civil service set up the >Learning through Life= Foundation as a one- stop learning shop and the basis of a sectoral UFI providing advice, guidance and learning opportunities direct to members.

Others have sought ways to support member=s access to higher education opportunities through access programmes.

BIFU has formed a partnership with an employer, and Focus London TEC to give members access to modules of a degree at East London University. The employer allows some paid release and members give some of their own time to study.

Since the early and well known success of Ford EDAP, there has been a growth of employee development schemes, based either in one or more companies or in a geographical area, organised in conjunction with employers and provider partners. Early evidence demonstrates that where the union is involved, take-up by the workforce is high.

The successful Employee Development Scheme negotiated by the TGWU at Fords, led to thousands of workers entering learning for the first time since leaving compulsory education. Research shows a positive link between participation in EDAP and progressing to other forms of training and education.

USDAW and BIFU are working with a TEC and FE College to set up an Employee Development Scheme based on a learning centre in a large city where there are a substantial number of retail and finance workers.

Other unions have drawn together powerful partnerships with the objective of providing learning opportunities to members, potential members and local communities.

The ISTC=s >National Steel Training Initiative= partnership brings British Steel and local authorities together with the union to develop opportunities for employees and their families in steel communities.

UNISON through its >Open College= supported by partner providers offers its members a comprehensive range of learning opportunities progressing from foundation courses to opportunities that support Continuing Professional Development.

Some unions are developing systematic approaches to learning by carrying out analyses and surveys to identify their members= needs, in order to make an informed case to the employer for support.

IPMS carried out a survey of over 600 of its members during 1998 to identify their training needs, preferences and current access to training.

>Learning through Life= (civil service unions) began its work by carrying out an extensive survey of employees= attitudes to and experience of learning in order to develop a strategy and service that meets them effectively.

BECTU with the NTO in the sector is developing a system of >Training Needs Analysis= which will assist new entrants, particularly free-lancers, to track and demonstrate their skills and qualifications to employers.

Union capacity on workplace learning

Whilst some of these examples involve unions negotiating for support at the workplace, most are led by unions at national and regional level, and with some exceptions, (craft union involvement in apprenticeships for example), union action by representatives on training at the workplace is a more recent development. Indeed, TUC research projects in the South East and North West between 1993 and 1995 concluded that trade union involvement in, and knowledge about workplace training was extremely limited.

Driven by economic and industrial change, and the need to provide relevant services to members, the TUC and unions have taken up this challenge. They increasingly encourage representatives to bargain about learning, to work with employers to promote a learning culture at the workplace, and to seek partnerships with organisations that can deliver/facilitate learning. The TUC >Bargaining for Skills= projects have been instrumental in promoting and supporting this development.

TUC Bargaining for Skills projects work with TECs to develop union awareness of the world of education and training, Tec awareness of the potential union contribution to learning, and to build support for union/employer partnerships on learning at the workplace.

TUC Bargaining for Skills projects with TECs/CCTEs, generate ,700,000 each year that is used to support union action on learning, particularly at the workplace.

Trade unionists now sit on most TEC boards strengthening the links between TECs and union representatives in their area, ensuring that union concerns are reflected in plans for training at local level, and that unions and their members benefit from TEC resources and expertise.

There are now a significant number of agreements that incorporate learning opportunities into wider strategies for job security and partnership at the workplace.

Unions have recognised that access to training can be a key part of any strategy for dealing with change.

Horizon Biscuits in the Wirral, wanted to introduce NVQs, as part of a wider Total Quality Management strategy. The TGWU, with TUC support, gained company support for identifying the learning needs of the workforce, stewards were trained as >learning= representatives and an extensive package of opportunities became available in a jointly owned learning centre.

The AEEU at Lincoln-based European and Gas Turbines worked with the company on a strategy to maximise the company=s success and competitiveness. The union/management team negotiated and built support for comprehensive changes in working practices, a pay structure which rewarded skill and an agreement that there would be no compulsory redundancies as a result of flexibility changes.

The AEEU, GMB and TGWU led negotiations with United Distillers and Blue Circle Cement, resulting in employment security guarantees linked to an employee development programme, and more flexible working arrangements

Unions have, by taking an active role in Investors in People, secured opportunities for members that have increased both their job satisfaction and employability. The TUC welcomes the review of the standard and is keen to see employee and union involvement strengthened. Where this has happened unions have usually negotiated positive benefits for employees including basic skills support for employees who previously had no training opportunities.

Bridgend District NHS Trust was the first to achieve IiP, and UNISON, the biggest health service union negotiating with the Trust was actively involved in working towards the standard.

Unions at BICC Cables in Blackley (GMB, MSF and AEEU) worked hard with their company to implement IiP and secured agreement for a workplace learning centre with basic skills for the workforce

USDAW at Elida Faberge in Leeds, worked with the employer to set up a high-tech learning centre, and union representatives received training in front-line advice and guidance skills.

Unions have played a key role in Modern Apprenticeships (MAs) by encouraging employers to participate, and encouraging apprenticeships to be extended to a wider range of occupations. A further expansion of the programme is welcomed by the TUC and provides further opportunities to integrate MA=s into bargaining strategies and to give effective support to young workers.

BWI Manesty, Liverpool has taken on the first apprenticeship for 14 years as a result of an arrangement with the AEEU and MSF which introduced a comprehensive package of job-related training and other learning opportunities.

Nevertheless, in spite of the many positive examples of TUC and union action, the Task Group recognised that only limited number of members are involved in these initiatives, that there is an uneven spread between sectors, occupations, region and locality. Consequently, the challenge to level up activity and opportunities is pressing.

Meeting the challenge

The Learning Age contains a number of proposals which will affect the organisation and availability of learning, particularly at the workplace, and the TUC has submitted a detailed response to the Government on the proposals and issues raised.

Whilst welcoming the new and ambitious vision for a learning culture, the TUC considers that relying on the current voluntary framework for training will not prepare British companies to cope with the challenges of global competition and technological change. Additionally the TUC doubts that the revised National Targets for Education and Training will be met without a new approach to skills development.

The Learning Age does contain some innovative and interesting proposals however which potentially increase the quality and quantity of workplace learning, and to which unions can make an important contribution.

For example, The University for Industry (UfI) will be established (launched in the year 2000), acting as the hub of a new learning network, using modern technologies to link businesses and individuals to accessible and flexible education and training.

In order to improve access to information about learning in general and the UfI in particular, a new national telephone helpline >Learning Direct= has been set up to give advice on how to get started on courses. It is planned that the range and depth of information provided by the help line will develop over time, in conjunction with agencies at local level.

The Government propose to set up a national system of Individual Learning Accounts (ILAs), built on the principles that individuals are best placed to choose what and how they want to learn, and that responsibility for investing in learning is shared. In order to determine the appropriate structures and arrangements for ILAs, the Government will test different approaches through a range of pilots, a proportion of which will be targeted to support particular learning or skill needs - eg people without qualifications, areas of skill shortages etc.

The Investors in People (IiP) standard has proved successful in encouraging organisations to plan for the current and future development of their staff to meet business aims. There are examples where union involvement in IiP has achieved benefits for members. The Government will look at how to strengthen the links between IiP, Government business support, and their proposals in the Learning Age.

Modern Apprenticeships have been successful in re-introducing opportunities for young workers enabling them to access recognised skills, and extending apprenticeships to a wider range of occupations. The scheme will be built on in the future.

The Government acknowledges the contribution of trade unions to workplace education and is keen to see further development of the TUC >Bargaining for Skills= initiatives. A >Union Learning Fund= (ULF) has been set up to encourage unions to explore innovative ways of extending employee development in learning, and to build their own capacity to support learning at the workplace.

Important new rights like those for Advice and Guidance in New Deal, and the Right to Study for 16-17 year olds offers new opportunities for individuals that unions can promote and support.

The Government is keen to point out that the above, and other initiatives in the Green Paper, are not stand-alone policies, but will work together to form a single integrated and enabling policy framework for lifelong learning.

The Task Group=s proposals for action will enable unions to make a contribution across all areas of learning, including the new initiatives referred to above and to maximise the benefits to members. They seek to both generate demand for and extend participation in learning, contributing to the >bottom-up= approach which will be essential to making >top-down= initiatives work, and to building a real learning culture in Britain.

The union >learning= representative

As well as contributing to the national framework for learning, through involvement in TECs/CCTEs, National Training Organisations and other bodies, unions increasingly include access to training in their bargaining strategies. Employees working in unionised workplaces are twice as likely to be trained than people in workplaces whose unions are not recognised. (Institute of Public Policy Research 1995).

A recent study also found evidence of a positive relationship between unionisation and formal training strategies. Unionised workplaces were found to be 17 per cent more likely to have a training centre, and 11 per cent more likely to have a training plan. (>Trade Unions and Training Practices in British Workplaces= by Francis Green, Stephen Machin and David Wilkinson, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE. 1996)

Additionally, managements that share decision making over training are the most successful in transforming workplace attitudes to training and change. (Employment Department 1994).

Consequently, the union representative is key to any strategy to increase union involvement in learning.

There are already examples of union representatives, who support their memberÕs learning, often supported by the TUC >Bargaining for Skills= projects, or by their unions. Amongst the tasks they carry out are:

  • generating demand for learning amongst members

  • giving advice and information to members about learning

  • identifying the learning needs of individual members

  • representing members on problems with learning

  • negotiating agreements that incorporate learning

  • setting up and contributing to joint training or learning committees or forums with a similar remit to safety committees

  • working with employers to introduce, implement and monitor initiatives that can have benefits for members - Modern Apprenticeships, New Deal, Investors in People, NVQs

  • arguing for and taking joint ownership of employee development schemes, which may be based on workplace learning centres

  • liaising with colleges, TECs and other organisations to secure resources and support for workplace learning

This good practice demonstrates that union representatives can have a key role in building on the good practice of the TUC >Bargaining for Skills= projects, and unions= own initiatives. They could support the development of Codes of Practice for workplace learning, (as proposed by the National Advisory Group for Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning in their first report >Learning for the Twenty-first Century=) and develop workplace learning agreements or >compacts= with employers.

However union representatives that take on this role are currently in a minority, do not enjoy the backing of a statutory framework, and consequently may not be encouraged by employers. They may not always receive effective back up from their unions or the TUC.

Not all union representatives will have the time or interest in taking on this new role. Some may lack confidence and need encouragement. But from recent experience it is clear that others will seize the opportunity, particularly if it comes with support and backing from their unions

It will of course be more difficult to develop this role in smaller, less organised workplaces, amongst freelancers or people without a regular base. The idea of the >roving= learning representative could be explored by unions in these circumstances.

Essential to widening participation in learning within an enabling framework like the one envisaged in the >Learning Age= is access by individuals to advice and support.

Additionally, to benefit from the opportunities that UfI may bring, individuals will need advocacy and representation at the workplace.

Whilst there are circumstances in which individuals need professional guidance and career counselling, in most cases, people want what is known as >front-line advice and guidance=, which can be provided by a variety of people - including the union representative. Indeed a recent study showed that trade unions help individuals to get training, and that individual men and women in non-union jobs were 9-11 per cent less likely to get training than their counterparts in identical union jobs.

(>Labour Market flexibility and Skills Acquisition= by Wiji Arulampalam and Alison Booth published by the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion 1998.)

Work to support representatives in this role is underway. In early 1998, a TUC tutor manual Trade Unions and Lifelong Learning was published, which set out the trade union approach to lifelong learning, and contains resources and activities that enable representatives to support and negotiate on behalf of their members on learning at the workplace. In September 1998, a second TUC manual (funded by the DFEE) AFront-line advice and guidance - the role of the union representative@ will be available. This manual will equip representatives to give initial advice on learning, signpost to other opportunities and organisations, identify members learning needs and develop a systematic approach to learning.

A number of bids to the >Union Learning Fund= will focus on building the capacity of representatives to act on learning at the workplace, including giving front-line advice and guidance, and incorporating representatives= training in the project plan.

TUC >Bargaining for Skills= projects (now in almost all TEC areas), will continue to generate union involvement in learning, including working on the new initiatives, and it is the TUC=s objective to shift the focus of this work increasingly towards implementing activities within individual workplaces.

All of these developments, and particularly those that become possible through UfI (see below), should generate a critical mass of action in which the union representative will be the key player. Support and backing from unions and the TUC will be essential.

The University for Industry (UFI)

UfI is a Government initiative to improve the skills and capabilities of people in work, or hoping to re-join the labour force. By harnessing the potential of new information technologies (ICT) and creating new private-public partnerships, UfI plans to give more adults than ever before, the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills which will enhance their employability, engagement in society, and allow them to face future change with confidence.

Recognising the potential of UfI to add value to workplace learning, the TUC and DfEE, commissioned a report by NIACE on the union role in UfI called Partnerships for Learning; opportunities for trade unions and the UfI.

This report drew on the work of the Task Group, and provides a detailed agenda for action.

UfI, whilst a national initiative, can only achieve its objectives of bringing large numbers of people into learning for the first time, and ensuring that learning opportunities are both easy to access and contribute to raising the skills level of the workforce, if it combines top-down commitment with bottom-up activity.

Additionally, as mentioned above, effective use of UfI will depend on an individuals access to good quality advice and guidance. Union representatives should be encouraged to use the facility of >Learning Direct= the new learning help line and to make links with other professional agencies (Careers Service, local FE Colleges) that can offer access to in-depth advice and guidance. Employers should be encouraged to financially support employees in accessing these facilities when appropriate.

Trade unions and their representatives can play a key role in making UfI a success, and at the same time, achieving the TUC/union agenda on learning.

The TUC/union Gateway to Learning

The Task Group=s work demonstrates that unions and the TUC already have extensive links and partnerships with providing bodies, and are involved in facilitating and delivering a wide range of opportunities.

For example, the TUC works with a network of about 50 FE colleges, and has a substantial varied programme of work, with about half of that number.

Some unions have partnerships with one or more colleges or universities that deliver vocational, professional and transferable skills programmes, political education, education for citizenship and other learning opportunitiies. Unions promote, support, monitor and contribute to these programmes.

More recently, some unions have set up parallel organisations to facilitate and delivering learning, usually in conjunction with universities or colleges.

The success of some projects in attracting an increased number of learners eg UNISON >Return to Learn=, and the TUC=s programme of IT training for members, demonstrates how unions can grow the learning market.

This will be further developed by some union-led ULF projects, where one of the criteria is >increased employee involvement in learning=.

Consequently, there is the potential to increase and highlight the role of trade unions and the TUC amongst partner providers, influencing how programmes for members are designed and delivered, and demonstrating to the wider workforce, employers and other organisations, the link between unions and learning.

In order to do this, the idea of a TUC/union Gateway to Learning could be developed and tested with some partner colleges.

Whilst the concept of a TUC/union Gateway to learning would need to be sufficiently flexible to fit different needs and contexts, it would locate unions at the centre of the learning agenda, raise expectations amongst members, and encourage institutions to recognise that unions are serious players in the learning world.

The TUC/union quality kitemark

Increased involvement in learning by union members, new initiatives like UfI, and the increase of workplace learning centres, has implications for quality of provision.

Most people have mixed experiences of training and education, and those with the least qualifications are most likely to lack confidence and feel reluctant to come forward.

Additionally, the concept of a TUC/union Gateway to Learning immediately raises questions about the criteria which institutions should meet, in order to qualify for the title.

The growth of workplace learning centres will not in itself guarantee access to good quality learning opportunities for the whole workforce. Indeed, the range of quality and opportunities offered in existing centres is varied.

Developing a TUC/union quality kitemark for organisations (whether workplace learning centres, employee development schemes or partner institutions) would reassure members that they can expect a positive learning experience, add value to other quality standards that are currently used (eg IiP, BS5750) and offer an incentive to employers and providers in marketing their provision.

Union >learning= membership schemes

The TUC has reservations about how effective ILAs can be in funding learning, and is particularly concerned about employers seeking to direct ILA funds to training that is job-related. However, in the context of developing the union role in learning, there is potential for using ILAs to encourage more people into learning by linking union membership with UfI, employee development schemes and access to an ILA.

Unions will also want to look at how ILAs could be organised on a collective basis in some workplaces (like a >learning= Credit Union) negotiating cost-effective deals for groups of members with providers.

Union representatives will want to negotiate financial contributions and study time linked to ILAs from employers, and enable employee contributions to be in kind rather than cash. Unions can also target groups for the first million accounts. This will be particularly important for low paid workers.

Basic and key skills

The terms basic and key skills are sometimes taken to mean the same thing. In fact basic skills refer to literacy and numeracy at lower levels of learning, whereas key skills are transferable skills (for example working with others, problem solving, communications) which can be achieved at all levels of learning, including higher levels. All recent reports demonstrate that a significant proportion of the workforce have some difficulties with basic skills (numeracy/literacy), and that there is an under-development of key skills at all levels of learning. A survey by the Basic Skills Agency in 1997 found that 39 per cent of adults in Britain had low skills and 6 per cent had poor basic skills.

This is in part because of the reluctance of some employers to invest in learning that is not directly job-related, in spite of the arguments about the costs of poor basic skills to industry and services.

Additionally, some individual workers, particularly those with literacy or numeracy difficulties do not recognise that they have problems, and do not have the confidence to seek assistance.

However, the TUC=s experience in providing ICT training for members and, on a wider level, the experience of the BBC >Computer=s Don=t Bite= Campaign, is that if made accessible and properly supported, adults will take up and enjoy the opportunity to return to learn. The TUC and unionsÕ education programmes bring thousands of people back into learning every year and are an established access route for many adults with few formal qualifications.

Indeed, some union-led initiatives, particularly Unison=s >Return to Learn= and some employee development schemes have had considerable success in generating and meeting demand for learning that develops basic and key skills.

Improving basic skills is a key priority in The Learning Age. The Government has set a target of helping 500,000 adults per year by 2002, to improve literacy and numeracy levels. A working group on post-school Basic Skills has been set up in which the TUC is represented.

Meeting the Government=s target will depend on improving the effectiveness of existing programmes and finding new ways of motivating learners. Voluntary sector and employer-led programmes will have a key role, and the challenge for trade unions will be to work with employers to provide more opportunities and to develop their own >employee-owned