At the TUC conference last month, education and employment secretary David Blunkett announced that the Government would be giving an extra £2m to the Union Learning Fund.
Set up in May 1998, the fund aims to use the trades unions’ workplace influence to encourage better training for employees.
Unions bid for the funds and match pound-for-pound the Government’s contribution. Awards are given for one year and are limited to £50,000 per project.
The additional money announced by Blunkett will increase the Government’s total investment in the fund to £10.5m by the year 2002.
Among the largest schemes is a partnership between engineering unions AEEU and MSF, car manufacturer Toyota and aeroengine maker Rolls-Royce, both based in Derbyshire. The Learning Champions of Derbyshire project will train union officials to advise staff trainers on suitable opportunities for employees.
`We want to expound the benefits of improving peoples’ skills,’ says Simon Hemmings, project coordinator at Rolls-Royce.
About 40 union representatives will form a `pyramid of support’ for Derbyshire manufacturers. A handful of `learning champions’ will undertake a 10-week training course and will become the authority on training issues in the area.
Around 30 learner representatives will take a five-day TUC accredited course that will enable them to give advice to staff on issues relating to learning. Hemmings says this group is key to the process because it can bring previously sceptical staff back into learning.
The fund has also helped unions improve the skills of their representatives in coping with the modern workplace and understanding the business issues facing their employers.
`The Union Learning Fund will equip workplace representatives with a much wider range of skills and will enable them to handle the changing nature of the workplace in the UK,’ says MSF general secretary Roger Lyons.