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Trade unions support upskilling and reskilling

A project led by The Open University in Scotland to break down barriers to participation in education has been crucial in helping trade union members to continue accessing learning opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here Tommy Breslin, our Senior Development Officer talks about the impact of the project.

The Opening Educational Practices in Scotland (OEPS) project was created to increase participation in education through the development of a series of co-designed free online courses, available through the OpenLearn and OpenLearn Create platforms.

OEPS was funded by the Scottish Funding Council and ran for three years until the end of July 2017. Over this time, OEPS worked with staff from 67 organisations, including universities, colleges, third sector organisations and networks, unions, and employers to explore and develop good practice.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, face-to-face workplace learning and upskilling opportunities disappeared virtually overnight. However, in working with trade unions on the OEPS project, I was confident that they were well equipped to support workers in continuing to access reskilling and upskilling opportunities.

I organised a series of webinars in partnership with the OU to provide further guidance and support to unions through distance learning, including supporting the creation of online trade union self-organised study groups to provide a safe and welcoming space for the learners to progress through to successful completion.

Looking to economic recovery, access to learning opportunities from the OU has a crucial role in helping workers made redundant to find new employment. In addition to the formal accredited courses, the practical skills courses on OpenLearn really help learners faced with a risk of redundancy to prepare for the challenges faced when looking for a new job or a return to full-time study.

Redundancy can be a distressing experience; it is essential that workers facing this situation are supported throughout.

Some of those workers were made redundant last year but they have since moved into alternative employment, utilising the skills and qualifications they developed as part of their studies, while some others went on to study full-time at a postgraduate level.

I really welcome the fact that at the heart of the OU’s ethos is widening participation; opportunities to access top quality university level learning opportunities are absolutely essential.

Many workers find upskilling and reskilling opportunities with their employers just do not exist. The OU’s experience and practice in developing learning opportunities that are open to all is unquestionably of crucial importance. Being able to study at 10 in the morning or 10 in the evening is a real boon for shift workers and those with caring commitments.

Free OpenLearn courses should not be underestimated as they help build the skills and confidence of workers over a shorter timeframe and have less pressure.

The statements of participation and badges help learners build and evidence a strong learning path that can help them in their workplace and also within their wider life commitments.

I would recommend the OU to anyone looking for accessible and inclusive learning experiences. They have courses all the way through from informal and non-accredited to undergraduate and postgraduate – there is something for everyone!

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