How to… keep learning in a time of crisis

Clair Hawkins and Kathleen Jowett of UNISON’s learning and organising service outline how we are supporting member learning and activist training during the COVID-19 crisis – and highlight the key role of union learning reps

Union learning and training doesn’t stop because of the coronavirus crisis. Your union is doing everything it can to support activists and members, minimise potential disruption and adapt to the current challenging situation.

We have had to postpone all face-to-face training for stewards and learning opportunities for members. Instead, we’re setting up an online system to continue key training for activists in the immediate period. And we’re rearranging our activist and member learning programmes, so that we can restart face-to-face training and learning later in the year.

The role of our union learning reps will continue to be key, both now and when physical courses restart. This can be one of the most rewarding roles in UNISON – but many members don’t even know it exists.

A way to help people

Becoming a union learning rep, or ULR as it’s often called in the union, is a great chance for any UNISON member who is interested in learning and enjoys helping people.

And, like workplace stewards and health and safety reps, union learning reps have a statutory right to paid time off for training and to carry out their role.

UNISON’s learning reps get involved in a whole range of activities, depending on the interests and needs of their colleagues, the priorities of their branch, and the skills and experience they bring with them.

These activities can include:

  • helping colleagues identify their own skills and strengths;
  • offering support and encouragement to colleagues interested in learning;
  • working with the branch to raise awareness of lifelong learning issues in the workplace and promote workplace learning with employers;
  • organising learning tasters and activities in the workplace;
  • recruiting new members and encouraging members to get more involved in their branch through UNISON learning.

ULRs also get involved in requests for time off to train, help colleagues explore learning loans, grants and funding, and make sure learning opportunities are accessible and inclusive.

If you want to find out more, visit our dedicated website and log in with your my.unison account details.

And if you haven’t already, you can sign up for a my.unison account here.

Online learning opportunities for stewards

We have quadrupled the capacity of our online course for new stewards, with more than 100 places now available.

The new course is supported by both a TUC tutor and a UNISON learning and organising staff member.

We will be there to support you, especially if you’ve not considered or taken part in online learning before now.

If you became a new steward in the last six months and haven’t yet taken part in the stewards’ induction training, UNISON will be in touch shortly about how to register for the online course.

Keep an eye out for news at UNISON learning and organising

We also have a range of other online support available for all activists.

Working together

Learning and organising staff will be working with colleagues across all the union’s service groups over the coming weeks and months to make sure we can provide the training our activists and reps need to keep their knowledge and skills up to date and carry out their union role.

UNISON members and activists can refresh their skills and knowledge with online modules at e-learning, using your my.unison account to log in.

The TUC also has a great range of online courses available.

Learning opportunities for members

We all need something positive and constructive to focus on in this difficult climate. UNISON can help members improve and develop their knowledge and skills – and even add to their continuing professional development.

The union has initially procured 100 licences for The Skills Academy for members. These give access to more than 550 online courses, for 12 months, and are completely free for UNISON members

Members who are interested should email, letting us know their name, membership number or date of birth and write Skills Academy in the subject header of the email. And we will be in touch.

And there’s more

As well as the new courses, we already have a number of online learning resources available to all members.

These will help members who are wanting to brush up on digital, literacy and numeracy skills or explore short, general and continuing professional development courses.

These courses include:

  • an introduction to online security;
  • dyslexia awareness;
  • raising awareness – menopause in the workplace;
  • raising awareness – mental health;
  • everyday English – punctuation;
  • GCSE maths and English.

And remember that the Open University has a huge number of online courses available through its OpenLearn site.

More information on UNISON courses can be found in our unique A to Z guide.

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