The government has been urged to rethink the planned cut to the Union Learning Fund, and work with trade unions to re-train and upskill after the coronavirus crisis.
The Union Learning Fund supports a network of union learning reps, who work with employers to engage workers in learning and training. Last year, the Union Learning Fund supported 200,000 learners, with thousands achieving their first ever qualification. The government announced in October that they were planning to cut funding for the Union Learning Fund next year.
In a new report, Learning and Work Institute – a leading employment and skills think tank – found evidence linking trade unions and collective bargaining to higher employer investment in skills – both in the UK and in other advanced economies.
Employer investment in continuing vocational training in the UK is half the EU average, and a recent national survey found that and the proportion of employers providing training had plummeted. The report highlights evidence from a series of national surveys showing that employers are more likely to invest in training at unionised workplaces. New analysis also shows that in countries with more widespread collective bargaining, employers are more likely to provide training, and employer investment per worker is higher.
The report also highlights evidence that trade unions could help level-up investment in skills. The UK suffers from stark inequalities in the distribution of training; workers with degree level qualifications are four times as likely to take part in training at work than those with no qualifications. Studies in the UK have shown that there is a more equal distribution of training among the workforce at employers with union learning reps, and evaluations of the Union Learning Fund has shown that it is particularly effective at engaging workers with lower levels of qualifications.
The UK is unusual in having no formal role for social partners – employers and trade unions – in the skills system. We are one of just four out of 36 OECD countries with no formal role for social partners in the governance of the education and training system.
The report calls on the government to: