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Skilled Workers: Trade Unions

Volume 468: debated on Monday 26 November 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what steps he is taking to encourage more employers to work with trade unions on developing the Skills for Life programme. (167054)

[holding answer 22 November 2007]: Employers and trade unions have a key role to play in supporting people to improve their literacy, language and numeracy skills.

The Government make a contribution of £3 million each year to the Union Learning Fund to help develop a focus on Skills for Life within Union Learning Fund projects and to help give Union Learning Representatives (ULRs) the skills to support literacy, language and numeracy learners.

Our efforts to improve skills in the work force will be much more effective if they are delivered with the joint support of employers, learners and those, like trade unions, who can support learning. Through the Skills Pledge, we are encouraging employers to commit to addressing the skills needs of their employees and, in particular, people with poor basic skills and without a full Level 2 qualification.

We have a number of initiatives in place to encourage employers to address Skills for Life needs and to sign the Skills Pledge. In each case, we have encouraged partners to work with the TUC/Unionlearn to maximise the effectiveness of addressing skills needs.

We have been working with Business in the Community (BITC) to engage large, high-profile employers since 2003. BITC have recruited over 30 senior business leaders as Employer Champions for Skills for Life and have worked with over 150 major companies including, DHL, SERCO and VT Shipbuilding.

Since 2004, BITC have run an annual Skills for Life Award recognising best practice in delivering Skills for Life programmes. Each of the award winners, and many of the runner-up entrants, has delivered programmes in its organisation in partnership with relevant trade unions.

We are working with the Skills for Business network through Asset Skills as the lead Sector Skills Council on Skills for Life. Sector Skills Councils have a role in raising awareness of literacy, language and numeracy skills among the employers they represent, in supporting them in addressing needs within their footprint and in ensuring that qualifications reflect the literacy, language and numeracy requirements of their sectors. Asset Skills has recently signed a joint agreement with Unionlearn to support joint activity on Skills for Life.

Working with the Cabinet Office and Government Skills SSC, we want to raise basic skills levels across central Government and to influence the public sector more widely. Cabinet Office consults with the relevant unions on the approach to staff development across central Government and there are a number of examples where PCS has worked closely with central Government Departments on Skills for Life—for example with the Department for Work and Pensions and Inland Revenue.

To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what assessment he has made of the effect on employers of their working with trades unions to improve the skills of their work forces. (167056)

[holding answer 22 November 2007]: In recent years, with the help of the Union Learning Fund (ULF), trade unions and their Union Learning Representatives have been really successful in working with employers to raise skill levels in the workplace. There are now over 18,000 trained Union Learning reps who have helped over 400,000 workers back into learning since ULF was introduced in 1988. Over 150,000 last year alone, many of whom were Skills for Life learners, those most in need of new skills who employers and training providers find it so difficult to reach.

An evaluation of the Union Learning Fund (2001-05) which surveyed a range of employers involved in ULF, showed that almost two-thirds of those employers who responded had a learning agreement in place as a result of ULF and 75 per cent. reported an increase in Skills for Life learning.