The whole country benefits from Union Learning Fund

The case and the benefits for union-led workplace learning is clear; the unions support it, the employers support it and the workforce supports it.

Our guest writer is Tom Wilson, director of unionlearn, which aims to help unions encourage lifelong learning among members

Today’s Daily Telegraph carried criticism of the Union Learning Fund (ULF) as part of its ongoing campaign against Unite, including an absurd quote from Francis Maude suggesting that the fund was a form of “money laundering”. It tries to paint the ULF as a vehicle for the Government to give taxpayers’ money to the unions without any return or monitoring of the consequences.

The reality is that the ULF has been a genuine success, for trades unions, businesses and the workforce combined. Over the last 12 years there’s been huge investment into the workplace bringing vital skills that business needs to remain competitive.

Three quarters of a million employees have benefited from training, bringing new skills to workers. Access is available to all levels of education from advanced skills and degrees as well as basic literacy, numeracy and IT skills to workers who have previously never had access to training or education.

Over 2,000 learning agreements have been signed between unions and businesses to agree to provide time off for staff to train and more than 23,000 learning reps trained to promote learning in the workplace. Companies involved cover the whole spectrum of the economy from such iconic British brands as Boots, Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems to the public sector such as the Fire Brigade, Prison Service and Royal Mail.

Contracts agreed with the unions have clearly defined targets and outcomes and the work is overseen by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the Learning and Skills Council, as well as being independently audited.

We have had wide support from the business community including the CBI, British Chambers of Commerce and Business in the Community. It is unlikely these bodies, nor the FTSE 100 companies working with unions, would be supporting the ULF and unionlearn if they didn’t see value for British companies and understand the need for a well-trained and motivated workforce. Studies have shown that firms that invest in training are more than twice as likely to succeed in an economic downturn.

The work funded by the ULF has been delivered in colleges and in a network of over 400 learning centres based in the community and in workplaces. The range of locations for these centres is vast from bus garages to the Olympic park and prisons to a Sikh temple!

What has been lost in the Telegraph’s article is the understanding that if we are to have a competitive economy we need a well-educated, well trained workforce. Improving the skills of people is good for their employer but also vital and transformative for the employee. It improves options on employment, leads to new careers path that were unavailable before and transforms life chances.

Hearing stories of workers with new job opportunities after being trained to use a computer, the woman in her 50s now able to read bedtime stories to her grandchildren for the first time or the 60 year old bus driver crying with joy after receiving his first ever qualification is truly uplifting.

The case and the benefits for union-led workplace learning is clear; the unions support it, the employers support it and the workforce supports it. We intend to get on with delivering it.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.