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&quotThere’s no time to learn” says TUC

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Many people work such long hours that they rarely have time for training, the TUC is saying today (Monday) as it calls on employers to give their staff paid time off to study.

At a TUC conference later today, TUC General Secretary John Monks will remind delegates that not only do UK employees work the longest hours in Europe, but workers on the Continent are better skilled, and get paid time off to learn.

Lifelong learning minister Malcolm Wicks MP will talk about how unions are ideally placed to get the lifelong learning message across, and how the internet offers unions the chance to engage many more workers.

A recent TUC survey of union learning reps – 2,000 of whom have been trained by the TUC on how to spread the learning message – found that although 70% felt they had made a positive impact on learning in their workplace, the one factor they felt would increase the number of workplace learners was paid time off for learning.

TUC General Secretary John Monks said: “The UK lags behind much of Europe on skills. In most other European countries, employees are able to combine work and training, and get time off to brush up on their skills. In the UK with our long working days combined with family commitments, it’s hardly surprising that many workers just can’t find the time to study. If employers were to start giving their staff paid time off to train, I’m sure both bosses and workers would begin to reap the benefits almost immediately.”

To spread the learning message, the TUC has produced a new leaflet offering unions and employers top tips on how to get the best from learning at work. The leaflet, released today, says that:


  • a joint union/employer approach to learning is the best way to tackle learning
  • a team of union learning reps provides invaluable support to reluctant or nervous learners
  • training providers should conduct a learning audit assessing what and how people would most like to learn
  • unions and employers should think about opening up workplace learning centres to a wider audience – perhaps letting the friends and family of workers, retired employees, or even staff working in small companies nearby, join in.

Delegates attending the TUC’s Learning Centres conference will hear how projects funded under the Union Learning Fund since its establishment two years ago have had an encouraging success rate. Two such projects include:

  • A basic skills course pulled together by technicians union, BECTU and the English National Opera in London. In the fledgling scheme ENO staff working in wardrobe and front of house, technicians and stagehands will get the chance to brush up on their communication skills, and take part in basic computer training. Five union learning reps have just been trained up and are already working hard on getting members to sign up for the new courses. BECTU is currently talking to a number of other theatres about setting up similar learning opportunities.

  • Joint learning involving a number of unions and people working at Lancaster University and the nearby Morecambe Bay Hospital Trust has begun with the training of 30 new learning reps. Training at the hospital is mainly aimed at ancillary staff, many of whom will have had little opportunity to train since leaving school. But at the university both lecturers and cleaners are expected to sign up. The scheme which kicked off in June should enable the employees to learn new skills, gain new qualifications and ensure their work skills stay bang up to date.

The two lead unions in the project are teaching union, the AUT and white collar union MSF.

HR Zone says: Whilst recognising the TUC have a valid point that many employees are unable to pursue learning because of inflexibility in working hours and employer attitudes, it also has to be recognised that there are many responsible employers who appreciate that both they and employees benefit from increased learning and new skills. Good personnel management supports learning for individuals for all around benefit.

Learning, benefits society as a whole, and this will be better appreciated when there is a greater understanding that expenditure on “learning” is seen as an investment rather than a cost.

One Response

  1. Without a statutory right it can be the most vulnerable workers
    Yes, some employers do demonstrate a very positive attitude to learning…and there are lots of examples of good practice in employer/union co-operation via the Union Learning Fund. However the problem is that without a statutory right it can be the most vulnerable workers who lose out.
    Perhaps the most important issue to come out of the Conference was the valuable role learning reps can play in winning people for learning. The TUC and Ufi are funding a new post to work with learning reps to make sure they are aware of and help their members take advantage of the opportunities learndirect can offer to new learners. I hope learndirect hubs contact their local Bargaining for skills team to see how they can plug into this resource.

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