Three challenges facing union learning
The TUC’s work on learning is the trade union movement at its best – positive, progressive, and popular. Union learning is focused firmly on the future and on making our economy stronger and more productive, but for all the progress we have made we still have a mountain to climb.
Amongst the many challenges facing our economy, I can see three particular areas where the union learning approach can really make a difference.
The first is young people. With youth unemployment still a terrible blight on our communities and nearly a million under-25s out of work, this is a huge challenge for all of us. Whether it’s facilitating work placements or improving the new traineeships schemes, trade unions are helping our young people to gain a foothold in the world of work. We’re giving lie to the myth that unions are only here to look after people already in a job.
The second area where we can lead from the front is apprenticeships. I’m proud that we’ve led the argument about the quality of schemes, really shaping the political consensus. In place of six-month long sham apprenticeships, we’ve shown that Britain needs proper schemes with good off-the-job training and decent terms and conditions. Trade unions are in a unique position to make sure that happens. Last year, almost 6,000 apprenticeships were supported by ULF projects – a big increase on the previous year.
The third area where we can shape the debate is intermediate and higher skills. It would be a big mistake to assume our work on learning was targeted only at lower-skilled workers. We’re putting a lot of work into continuous professional development, helping workers with intermediate and higher skills move on to the next level. We’re also addressing Britain’s chronic shortfall of technical skills – especially in science, engineering and technology.
Through the “Technician Pathways” project unions arepromoting the professional standing of technicians. Not just recognising the huge contribution they make to our economic life, but extending career development opportunities to this crucial group of workers.
Ultimately our work on learning and skills is about winning a better deal for working people. But in the long run, we’re not going to get a pay rise without a productivity rise. And we’re not going to get a productivity rise without a skills rise. That’s why union learning matters so much. Giving all working people – regardless of class, age, or background – the chance to fulfil their true potential at work and in life.
NOTE: I will be speaking at this year’s unionlearn conference, 23rd June 2014. For more information or to book your place, visit the unionlearn website.