Headlines: May 25th, 2004

UNISON, the country’s biggest trade union has signed an agreement with the Open University to provide greater learning opportunities for the union’s members. The agreement cements a relationship between the two organisations, which has seen thousands of UNISON members gaining access to higher education.The union says Open University courses act as a gateway to professional qualifications, which are often denied to low paid workers. This, with the support of employers, can offer a new chance to develop a successful career path. Under the agreement, the union will work with the university to create better linkage between UNISON training programmes and the university’s access courses. Both organisations will collaborate with employers to expand learning programmes in the workplace.

Dave Prentis, UNISON’s General Secretary said employers often gave more training and opportunities to staff who already had degrees or other qualifications. The work with the OU was designed to widen learning opportunities and career development for those stuck at the bottom of the ladder and on low pay.

Typically, he said, these were women workers who had left school with few qualifications and who might have been in local government or the NHS for many years but had never been offered training. “We are helping home care and residential workers become qualified social workers and health care assistants train as nurses – both areas where there are desperate shortages across the UK,” he added. Many UNISON members started this process by taking part in an introductory ‘Return to Learn’ course and, having built up their knowledge and confidence, were keen to go on and do other courses.