UNISON offers a wealth of learning opportunities to our members. From bite-sized online learning to improve maths and English, to our ten week Return to Learn and Women’s Lives courses, our member learning programme is an incentive in itself!
Here are just a few of the opportunities on offer:
- Our continuing professional development workshops, run in partnership with the Open University, build members’ knowledge around mental health awareness, dementia awareness, autism awareness, and dealing with challenging behaviour.
- UNISON members can claim a discount on distance learning – on GCSEs, A levels and other qualifications with the National Extension College, and on a whole range of courses from project management to modern languages with e-Careers.
- We partner with the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) to run courses to build members’ confidence and help them expand their horizons. These range from half-day and day-long workshops to our award-winning Return to Learn and Women’s Lives courses, which give members the opportunity to develop the skills and confidence they need to get back into education, in a safe environment over ten weeks.
- Learning app Wranx helps members to improve their English and maths skills in ten minutes a day.
- Our bursary scheme supports members who are studying at their own expense with grants to help towards textbooks, exam fees, or other study costs.
And that’s without even thinking about the possibilities of training and development that open up when someone becomes an activist.
But what does all that have to do with growing the union?
Learning can be a powerful reason for someone to join UNISON. If they’re feeling stuck, unappreciated, or underused in their current role, then the possibility of gaining new skills or qualifications brings with it the possibility of promotion or even a career change.
Jenny Ford joined the union because she had identified some learning needs within her team, and someone from her branch suggested that UNISON member learning might be able to help. That was the beginning of her journey with UNISON – a journey that’s eventually led to her becoming lifelong learning co-ordinator and joint branch secretary at Portsmouth Health branch.
Jenny says, ‘Being able to lift people into a better future through learning, it’s such a positive thing to do. If I hadn’t got involved in member learning, it’s unlikely I would have actually joined the union, if I’m honest! And now I am really involved in the structures of the union, within my branch and at a regional level.’
When you’re talking about learning, you’re talking about a benefit that kicks in immediately, that changes people’s lives for the better in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. Learning leads to positive outcomes for our members – and whether that’s increased confidence, course completion, accreditation or a qualification, it’s a great reason to join the union. Do your colleagues know about what we can offer them?
It doesn’t have to be anything as formal or as intimidating as a course. In workplaces across the UK, UNISON learning reps organise fun, casual learning opportunities. From book groups to knit’n’natter sessions to photography classes, they show off the less serious side of the union while still enhancing people’s skills and confidence.
Members will talk about the enjoyable event that their union has organised. Non-members can be encouraged to join the union in order to participate, or to enjoy a discount on any fee that might be charged. And it gets a buzz going around the whole workplace.
Talking to potential members about learning gives a positive view of UNISON and is the reason some members join our union. It’s a way to get a group of people into a room for a positive reason and open the subject of what else the union can offer them. It’s a reason to talk to workers about UNISON and getting involved, to develop confidence and solidarity. And when you’re talking to potential members about learning, you may also find out about workplace issues and be able to talent-spot potential activists.
For example, a recent Open University workshop on autism awareness and managing workplace stress for members in schools in Norfolk attracted 30 members. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Participants took membership packs back to their workplaces and recruited new members by talking to colleagues about their positive experiences on the workshops. Some even invited organisers to visit their schools for recruitment and organising.
Learning helps build relationships with members, potential members and employers. It’s a useful way to ‘get a foot in the door’ with employers who may be hostile to other forms of union engagement. It gives a positive reason to communicate with members and potential members in a way that enhances personal development while strengthening the union.