The power of union learning

A UNISON member illustrates just why union learning is so important – and why we need to save the Union Learning Fund

“A few years ago … I wouldn’t have said boo to a goose, but my confidence and my own self-worth have grown.”

Those are the words of Sharon Thompson, hospital catering assistant and UNISON member, and one of the many, many workers who has benefited from union learning.

Sharon had, at one time, wanted to study child psychology, but university wasn’t possible. Some years down the line, when she was having difficulties at work, UNISON learning rep Hazel Kjebekk suggested learning to her.

Together, they came up with a plan for her to study counselling, starting with a confidence workshop available through the Bridges to Learning scheme. After that – and attending a larger health and social care conference through the same scheme – Sharon was able to begin a counselling skills course.

Hazel had been able to help Sharon budget to afford the course – and access a union bursary to buy a laptop that she would need for her studies. Within two years, she was close to completing her level four diploma, with her life transformed.

That’s the power of union learning – and a perfect illustration of why UNISON is backing the campaign to save the Union Learning Fund, which the government in Westminster has said will cease from next March.

The devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all realise the value of the scheme and have made no suggestions that they will do the same.

UNISON is calling on the government to pull back from its plan to scrap the fund in England, saying that the decision makes no sense.

The union has a proud tradition of providing learning opportunities for members. The Union Learning Fund allows UNISON to reach out to non-members as well, meaning that it can help thousands more public services workers improve their skills and knowledge.

And many more are going the campaign.

Director of education and deputy CEO at the WEA (Workers’Educational Association), Joanna Cain said: “The WEA is absolutely committed to adult education and to enabling adults to build confidence for life and work through learning.

“Our long partnership with UNISON is incredibly important to the WEA and through it, 1000s of UNISON members have got involved in learning. Right now, we are running a series of online workshops together – both to support members who are facing change and to get started with learning.

“Learners then can progress to Return to Learn or to achieve qualifications including in English, digital or maths or in a specialist area of interest such as health care or working in schools.

“We see every day the enormous impact of adult education on health and well-being, broadening horizons and building vibrant communities – it’s more important now then ever.”

If you are a union learning rep, please encourage your employer to support the #SaveUnionLearning campaign and write to the secretary of state, and encourage your members to share their stories here of how union learning has helped them.