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Career development opportunities for union members

The Open University in Scotland has continued to work closely with trade unions to ensure their members can access skills and training during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly those at risk of redundancy.

Here Michael Conroy, a Learning Organiser for Unite the Union, discusses how the OU helps to support union members to reskill and upskill to develop their careers and find new employment opportunities.

Michael works mainly with union members within the construction sector, where he organises lifelong learning opportunities for workers across Scotland in various trades, including plant operators, groundworkers, joiners, painters and plasterers.

His experience includes working with local authorities; Scottish Government agencies, such as Historic Environment Scotland; and private sector main contractors, including Balfour Beatty, Robertsons, BAM, and their supply chains:

I am passionate about the ethos behind the creation of the OU in making educational opportunities available to working-class people, where they may not have the opportunity to undertake higher education elsewhere.

In my role as a Learning Organiser, I’ve found that the learning opportunities offered by the OU are extremely important to our members’ career development.

Working in partnership with the OU widens our reach and ensures different delivery models that meet the needs of our members’ individual situations and work-family commitments.

The OU has always been a very responsive and flexible provider and continues to design innovative and meaningful learning opportunities to reskill or upskill, especially for Unite members at risk of redundancy due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the union and the OU worked together to identify a group of free short courses with the goal to support the employability of union members during the pandemic, but also improve the transferable skills of members to have a greater opportunity to find work in other sectors.

These courses are 24 hours long and award an OU Statement of Participation and a Digital Badge for career development opportunities. The main advantage is these courses can be undertaken at any time and at the learner’s own pace.

The OU has previously supported Unite members in the care sector, with the establishment of four bespoke learning pathways, a degree programme for members at Rolls Royce, and redundancy support for members at Michelin in Dundee.

We have explicit experience of members who have undertaken learning through the OU who maintain and progress within their employment, and in the event of redundancy find new employment quickly.

In Rolls Royce, a member who completed the full degree programme went on to a management position, and when the impact of COVID-19 led to redundancies at the plant, the same member was able to find a new job almost immediately.

At Michelin, where there was a redundancy programme, the OU supported our members through core skills and innovative learning opportunities, and we already have experience of members finding new employment due to this intervention.

The main benefit of working with the OU is the breadth of courses, whether that be free short courses to modules and degrees. The OU has something for every one of our members.

Find out more about about The Open University in Scotland's partnerships with Scottish Union Learning and trade unions and upskilling opportunities.