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Highlands & Islands ULR Conference 2017

Virtual delegate: take a tour around our 2017 conference and see the venue, workshops and speakers.

On Friday, 16 June 2017 Scottish Union Learning held its annual Highlands and Islands ULR Conference at the Kingsmills Hotel in Inverness. The theme of this year’s Conference was “Generations Working and Learning Together”. The Conference was attended by over 40 delegates from a variety of unions including Unite, UNISON, Prospect, GMB, PCS, ASLEF, RMT, CWU, PCS and Aegis as well as a number of guests from partner organisations.


Wendy Burton, Director of Scottish Union Learning, welcomed delegates before introducing David Coyne from Skills Development Scotland, who gave a presentation on “Developing Skills for the Future through Work-Based Learning.”

David explained how technology is the accelerant of change, and how workers are advised to amend their skill set to compensate for this. Delegates were made aware of how apprenticeships can boost skills, particularly graduate level apprenticeships.

Soon after that it was time for the first round of workshops. Delegates split into groups to attend their choice of three different workshops:

“Organising Learning for Young, Precarious Workers” - Sarah Collins, Young Workers’ Learning Project

Trade unions can find it difficult to organise in precarious industries such as hospitality. However, using the learning agenda, campaigns such as Better than Zero are bringing young workers from non-unionised workplaces into the labour movement. Sarah provided an overview of the campaign, the education on offer for non-unionised young workers and explore how the learning agenda can be used for organising in precarious workplaces.

“Digital Self Defence” - Irene Warner-Mackintosh, Mhor Collective

Every day we read headline grabbing stories about the dangers of the internet – but millions of us use connectivity to enhance many aspects of our lives. This workshop was aimed to give delegates the confidence to enjoy the benefits of being online without the worrying. They learnt about protecting your identity online, shielding against online threats and how to online shop safely.

“Knowing Me Knowing You” Lorna Campbell, Social Enterprise Academy

This workshop took delegates on a peek through the Johari Window to understand how being open to feedback and the views of others can help you grow personally and build trusting relationships with co-workers. This helped ULR’s become more self-aware when liaising with employers and learners to improve communication in the workplace.


After a short break Grahame Smith, STUC General Secretary addressed the Conference about the many challenges and difficulties faced in a modern workplace. The old model of a job for life and then retirement no longer applies. Globalisation, digital technology, automation, changes to working practices and pensions are some of the developments which are driving fundamental changes at work and having an increasing impact on the lives of workers of all ages. Grahame stressed the importance of developing skills, and trade unionism within the workplace.

After the second round of workshops Pete Cannell from the Open University in Scotland gave a presentation on learning and the importance of informal learning as well as formal learning. Often accredited, classroom based learning is what is valued the most, however, informal learning such as following a YouTube tutorial or learning from friends or colleagues can be just as rewarding. Pete directed delegates to free learning courses and materials which were available online, such as which is a free platform for a variety of courses.

Roisin Connolly from Connecting Carers then gave a presentation about the impact of caring and employment. Connecting Carers is an organisation which campaigns for a better life for unpaid carers in the Highlands. Delegates were given an overview of the role of unpaid carers, and how employers can become more “carer aware” and identify ways that staff can share their caring responsibility without facing a stigma. There is a government aspiration of 30% of employers to be Carer Positive within the next 5 years. NHS Highland and Highland Hospice are examples of employers who have been awarded an engaged status for becoming Carer Positive.

Wendy Burton, Director closed the Conference by thanking everyone who attended, the venue for their excellent facilities, and Scottish Union Learning Staff who organised it.

The attendees had a fantastic day and there was positive feedback from delegates with 50% saying they thought the conference was “very worthwhile”, and 42% saying it was “mostly worthwhile”.

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