North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) has launched its new Union Learn project to support and expand the number of union learning reps that help low-skilled workers develop their skills and confidence.  

NTCA is investing £430,000 in the project over two years, working in partnership with the Northern TUC and its three constituent Local Authorities; Northumberland County Council, North Tyneside Council and Newcastle City Council. This follows the ending of national funding in March. 

The project is part of the Combined Authority’s wider aim to provide good jobs, making sure people in the region can gain new skills and develop a career.  Many people with low skills or qualifications often become trapped in poorly paid roles with limited opportunities to get a better job. Currently, 18% of North of Tyne residents hold few or no qualifications, and 23% of residents in work are paid below the Real Living Wage. 

Jamie Driscoll, Mayor of North of Tyne said the Union Learn project would be an essential part of the fight to eradicate poverty and inequality. 

He said: “North of Tyne are stepping in with a £430,000 investment to make Union Learn even better.  Workplace learning plays a vital role in helping people get the confidence and skills needed to develop their careers and job opportunities.  It puts more money in workers’ pockets and is good for employers and our local economy. Every £1 invested in Union Learn creates an economic benefit of £12.80.   Trade unions play a unique role in supporting workplace learning. Their network of 40,000 volunteer union learn reps reaches workers who are stuck in low paid work due to lack of qualifications or skills. They help the hardest to reach people access learning and training and excel at supporting less confident learners. 

“That’s why I was outraged by the government decision to axe Union Learn Funding and I committed to doing something about it.  Working in partnership with the Northern TUC, we’ve developed a project which will strengthen Union Learn. We’re funding four full-time workers who will support the network of trade union learning reps, helping them to reach even more workplaces. They’ll also be championing workplace learning to new employers.   This is an investment in good work. It will make a real difference to people’s lives.” 

Since 1998 the Union Learning Fund has supported a network of 40,000 volunteer trade union learning reps, and recent research by the University of Exeter found they helped 9 out of 10 participants gain at least one new skill, and nearly two thirds gained a qualification.  The research also showed that as well as boosting workers job prospects it has widespread support amongst employers, who say it improves productivity and generates better working relationships.  The research highlighted that for every £1 spent on union-supported learning the economy gets back over £12, adding nearly £1.5 billion to the UK’s economy. 

Beth Farhat, Regional Secretary for Northern TUC said“For more than 20 years the Union Learning Fund has supported working people to access skills and training at work, through their unions.  Last year more than 200,000 learners got new skills through union learning. The government funding taught people to read, write and use computers: last year 62,000 got basic English, maths and IT skills through union learning. And thousands got their first ever qualification. 

I’m absolutely delighted that through the North of Tyne Combined Authority Investment fund and working in partnership with Northern TUC we will continue this work through employing a regional union learn project officer and seconding three union learning reps across the local authorities to bring lifelong learning opportunities to workers across the area.  We will work with employers and unions to develop a network of union learning reps, to reach workers and help them get into learning. In the middle of the deepest recession of our lifetimes, this is not the time to cut skills and training.  This is a time to keep learners learning.  Thank you to Councillor Joyce McCarty and Mayor Jamie Driscoll and the Combined Authority for their commitment to trade union learning, where there is will and support, we can deliver innovative projects that reduce inequality and benefit the regional economy too.” 

The project will support and expand a network of union learning reps, aim to reach 40 workplaces and support 450 employees with learning opportunities over the two years.  The project will also build relationships with employers to champion workplace training and promote take up of the North of Tyne’s Good Work Pledge.