Union Learning Representative
As a bus driver for a quarter of a century John Lea was used to picking people up. He still is, but now as Union Learning Representative [ULR] organiser across northwest England he has an aversion to dropping people - or to be specific ULR’s - off.
Which is why John is constantly telling any potential, or recently elected, ULR that “Unite runs courses just for them at easy to reach, safe and friendly locations across the region. We aim to ensure those who’ve taken on such an important position quickly gain the skills to do the job effectively on behalf of the members who’ve elected them.”
Which is exactly why Jean Bishop, an RSA employee since 1999, could be found in late September participating on the ULR stage 1 five-day training course being run at Jack Jones House in Liverpool by John.
As one of the largest insurance companies in the world RSA has branches across Britain, and Unite have members in each branch, including at the Liverpool site where Jean is one of 1040 employees. A staunch trade union member for many years she agreed to become the first ULR after Unite negotiated a union learning agreement with the company, allowing for a rep on each site.
Speaking on the course’s final day she said, “it has been a very interesting week from which I’ve learnt a great deal. I appreciate why the union puts so much importance on life-long learning, helping as it does people to update their skills at a time when no-one has a job for life. I have a much greater understanding of which courses it might be appropriate to try and attract members to attend, whilst being amongst new ULR’s has helped in bouncing ideas around and gaining support from others in a similar situation to myself.”
Joining Jean on the course was Everton fan Brian Whitehill. A taxi driver for two decades he joined Unite at the start of 2008, when after attending a NVQ level 2 Road Passenger Vehicle Driving [RPVD] Course at Jack Jones House he became convinced his constant battle with the authorities on behalf of his work colleagues would be better served inside the union. It’s a move he’s never regretted.
After becoming a ULR he was so spurred on by his learning experiences that he subsequently undertook an assessors and Preparing to Teach in the Life-Long Learning Sector course, as well as recruiting hundreds of new Unite members by initially encouraging drivers to attend the RPVD course. “This course has acted as a refresher, allowing me to examine where I might have made mistakes in the past, whilst I also hope that my recounted experiences to the others on the course will help them in the future” said Brian.
According to John what comes next for the newly trained reps must include “letting people know they’ve been on the course, advertising their role, preparing a questionnaire, offering guidance on what courses might be available and finding out what all employees, including potential unite members, want.”
“I’d urge anyone who might be interested in becoming a Unite ULR to contact their officer knowing they can expect to receive some high quality training to help them do their job effectively” said Jean.
The Union Learning Reps Training Stage 1 lasts five days. Held in learning centres across the country the course looks at why Unite is involved in lifelong learning, the role of a ULR including the legal framework, overcoming barriers to learning, skills for life in a workplace, facilities, identifying learning needs, designing questionnaires, interviewing skills, working with others and personal development. It’s not easy, but you and your workmates will benefit if you get involved.