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Fair Work in Practice - Unite the Union Case Study: Fulfilment

Scottish Union Learning has been working closely with unions across Scottish Apprenticeships to develop apprenticeship standards and frameworks, to progress apprenticeship opportunities with employers and to support Apprentices in their workplaces.

This is the fourth in a series of five apprenticeship case studies from a range of unions working in different sectors. Each case study will focus on a specific Fair Work dimension in practice, although the Fair Work dimensions do not stand in isolation from each other.


"It is widely accepted that fulfilment is a key factor in both individual and organisational wellbeing. This includes the opportunity to use one's skills, to be able to influence work, to have some control and to have access to training and development." Fair Work Framework 2016

Unite the Union: A Construction Sector Case Study

by Michael Conroy, Unite the Union

Unite the Union directly engage with the apprenticeship sections of employer federations including the Scottish Building Apprenticeship Training Council (SBATC); the Scottish Painting and Decorating Apprenticeship Council (SPADAC); the Scottish Electrical Charity Training Trust (SECTT); sector skills councils (CITB) and construction sector focused colleges such as City of Glasgow College and West College Scotland to ensure young people entering the Construction Sector have a genuine opportunity to undertake a fulfilling trade apprenticeship.

What do Unite the Union mean by a fulfilling trade apprenticeship?

  • Pre-apprenticeship: greater promotion of the sector to young people, for example, at school/ college; and access to events that showcase the best of the sector, best practice, and examples of success stories/ progression paths
  • Terms and Conditions are collectively bargained and working conditions routinely regulated, especially within the subcontract chain, hence the establishment of the Fair Work Apprenticeship Coordinator role
  • Greater opportunity to undertake a four-year full-trade apprenticeship at SCQF level 6 that provides young workers with a breadth of skills and knowledge across multiple disciplines, as opposed to narrower specialisms - where possible, undertaking advanced craft qualifications, for example joinery and carpentry
  • Increased capacity and training of apprenticeship mentors in local authorities and private sector construction companies to ensure young workers have a support network to discuss issues relating to their health and safety, wellbeing, and career
  • Continually review and improve the design of frameworks through collaborative engagement between unions, employers and sector councils to ensure frameworks and standards remain fit for purpose and aligned to industry requirements
  • Access to lifelong learning and continuous personal development opportunities to enhance wider skills beyond the training undertaken as part of a traditional apprenticeship, for example, traditional signwriting, lincrusta, epoxy resin repair care courses, locksmithing, 18th edition, inspection and testing
  • Enhancing employment prospects after completing a four-year fixed term contract: Unite support young workers employability (CV writing, interview skills) to ensure that, after their fixed term contract concludes, they are in the best shape to be retained by the company they completed their apprenticeship with or find new employment with a different employer
  • Influencing attitudinal behaviour – encouraging workers to stay within the sector and remain economically active within the sector for the duration of their working life

An Apprentice at work

Unite the Union, through engagement with employers, anticipate true fulfilment within an apprenticeship to produce long term impact for a worker during his working life within the construction sector. A central element is undertaking the highest level of a four-year full-trade apprenticeship, such as electrical or joinery, from the outset. This will guarantee young workers in Scotland hold the highest skillset, and have the opportunity to use their skills to obtain employment within a host of sectors and settings and to command high pay for the high skill level they possess.

Our experience suggests a worker who is fulfilled in their role as a tradesperson continuously undertakes lifelong learning and skills development opportunities, either through their own employer’s CPD initiatives, external funding through training providers, or through Unite supported by Scottish Union Learning. Our experience suggests continuous learning improves workers’ mental resilience and ability to adapt to uncertain events, and increases innovation.
Ultimately, workers who have a fulfilling apprenticeship experience with work-related learning, safety-related learning and human factors-related learning, will be less at risk, have fewer health and safety concerns, and will experience better wellbeing.

What does this look like in practice?

Unite the Union engage closely with City Building Glasgow LLP where Unite have a strong working relationship around apprenticeships and the wider skills development of apprentices. City Building Glasgow LLP are one of the largest recruiters of construction sector apprentices in Scotland. They are leaders in equality and diversity and have a strong record of recruiting and developing female and BAME apprentices in a variety of trade routes including electrical, plumbing, lift engineers, painters and joiners.

City Building Glasgow LLP invest greatly in training, learning and skills development and have a dedicated apprenticeship training facility in Queenslie where their apprentices are trained by high quality in-house trainers (most of whom have progressed within the organisation). City Building Glasgow LLP ensure collectively bargained wages rates and conditions including sick pay, holiday pay and pension contributions are adhered to. Unite, through the workplace Union Learning Reps (ULRs) and workplace structures, organise a variety of trade courses as well as IT courses to support the wider skills development of apprentices, predominantly in their third and fourth years, during every funding cycle for the last decade. The employer provides onsite facilities for this learning to take place and provides full paid release for all learners.

Two Apprentices at work

In some instances, the skills learned have been utilised in charitable projects across Glasgow, where apprentices are making a difference to other people’s lives. In addition, this learning has led to apprentices undertaking more artisan projects, competing in UK-wide painting competitions, which ultimately nurtures better wellbeing, creativity and aspiration.

Throughout the academic year, the Fair Work Apprenticeship Coordinator and the Union Learning Organiser attend Scottish Apprenticeship Week events and promote the crucial role of unions in fair work and lifelong learning opportunities. For electrical apprentices, the union organise a wide range of City and Guilds accredited 18th edition courses, 2391-50/51 inspection and testing courses and, when they become time-served, Electrical Vehicle Charging Equipment Installation courses, ensuring young workers’ skills are current and accredited, and supporting them to continue to be productive and prosperous citizens with many strings to their bow.

Related resources

Fair Work - Union Activity Summaries 2020-21

Fair Work in Practice - NUJ Case Study: Opportunity This is the third in a series of five apprenticeship case studies from a range of unions working in different sectors.

Fair Work in Practice - RMT Case Study: Security This is the first in a series of five apprenticeship case studies from a range of unions working in different sectors.

Fair Work in Practice - UNISON Case Study: Respect This is the second in a series of five apprenticeship case studies from a range of unions working in different sectors.

Fair Work in Practice - Unite the Union Case Study: Effective Voice This is the last in a series of five apprenticeship case studies from a range of unions working in different sectors.