Speech at EU Life Long Learning Project Final Conference – London, 23rd September 2016

union-learning-reps-ulrs_1Unite is the biggest manufacturing union in the UK and we also have a unique relationship with our fellow trade unionists and workers in the EU. 

Unite’s elected workplace representatives represent members in some of the biggest manufacturing companies in the EU and around world, and we collaborate with workers across borders through strategically important European Works Councils.

 Unite is pleased to be involved in this project.  It gave us the opportunity for further collaboration and to share best practice on how to develop effective workplace learning strategies.

 Firstly, I would like to thank our Unite reps for participating in this TUC, European funded project.  And, of course, the reps from the five other partner countries.

I know that the study visits were a great success and through the exchange of information that took place we were able to create a useful toolkit for union reps which will help develop workplace learning strategies which are needed for our sector to thrive.

 I am always delighted to discuss skills and workplace learning.

 High quality skills are vital to ensuring that our crucial manufacturing sector can prosper in the future, meaning people will have access to good quality, sustainable employment.

 Given the challenges that we face over the next couple of decades, it’s important that key stakeholders come together and identify skills strategies which will ensure that the workforce is equipped with the tools which will enable the sector to grow, providing good quality sustainable employment for millions of people.

In the UK we face a unique set of problems.

 Let me turn to Brexit

 Brexit is a hot topic in the UK.  Unite is developing a strategic response in manufacturing We are calling for:

 No trigger of Article 50 until we know what deals are possible.

There must be a union seat at the negotiating table.

Existing employment protections derived from EU law must be grandfathere

Workers should not lose their employment protections.

Access to the single market, tariff free.

Companies must not use Brexit as an excuse to declare job losses and closures.

Alongside these key steps, there should be continuing investment into infrastructure and investment in skills.

 A skill strategy is a key plank of an industrial strategy which will ensure that our manufacturing sector can thrive in the post Brexit environment.

 What are the potential impacts of Brexit?

 The UK manufacturing sector relies heavily on skilled labour from the EU and the rest of the globe.  1 in 8 manufacturing workers were not born in the UK.  A report by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders shows that there are 5,000 vacancies which cannot be filled due to skills shortages.  Unite and other manufacturing organisations believe we need to attract workers from the EU and elsewhere.

 Unite agrees with EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation that the UK cannot have a “one size fits all” approach to reducing migration from the EU.  Ministers have to recognise that for the manufacturing sector, EU workers make an essential, valuable contribution and bring much needed skills to the sector, which are unlikely to be met by the UK labour market alone.

 Unite is calling for the UK government to safeguard the continuance of existing EU funding and tools which helps improve the mobility of workers and provide common standards for the quality of vocational education.

 We want to make sure that programme such as ERASMUS, EQF and EQAVET continue.  Protection of these training programmes should be included in Brexit negotiations.

Automation and wider challenges

Manufacturing faces wider challenges, notably from the speed of the digital revolution including robotics, cobots and automation.

 Interesting fact: Germany has 176,000 industrial robots compared to the UK with just 17,000 in use.  Therefore the likely increase in the use of robots, cobots, connectivity and digitalisation means that workers will need a very different skill set in the future.

The Bank of England has warned that up to 11 million jobs could lost through automation in the near future.

 Unite is now developing strategies for how we handle “industry 4.0”.  Whilst these changes will affect the whole of the economy through platforms and apps such as “Uber” but automation will have a significant impact in the manufacturing sector.  Whilst this change won’t happen overnight, as a union we have to ask the important question “What is the long term future for the next generation that will be looking for the jobs that have always been there?”

 What sort of skills will be needed in the future?  We believe that the workforce will need a more diverse skill set; skills which enable the workforce to service and maintain robots and cobots as well as the skills to manufacture the goods that companies sell.  We’ve already seen apprenticeships in this sector become a lot more diverse.

 In many companies apprentices are having to develop high level ICT skills along with electrical and engineering skills.

 New qualifications will have to be developed which reflect the changing needs of industries.  Unite is calling on the UK government to work with unions, employers and the education sector to ensure we develop a robust industrial strategy underpinned by relevant, high quality skills.

 The Apprenticeship Levy

Significantly, the UK is introducing an apprenticeship levy from April 2017.  Employers with a paybill over £3m per yearwill have to make a monthly payment of 0.5% of their total payroll costs.

 Unite and the TUC has been calling for a training levy in some sectors for decades.

 Over the past two decades employer investment in training has been in free fall and the volume of training undertaken by the workforce has declined by roughly 50%.

 Unite is familiar with the existing levy in the construction sector.  It works well and is understood by employees and employers alike.  Recent guidance has been published by the government which has provided clarification on how the levy will operate.

 It is particularly welcome that employers will be able to allocate 10% of their levy funds to employers in their supply chains, to fund apprenticeships, which will give the entire sector a boost.

 Unite is supportive of apprenticeship growth, where it provides quality opportunities for the workforce.

 We want to negotiate gold standard apprenticeships with employers, including good pay for apprentices, quality training including high level skills and apprenticeships which last a minimum of three years.  We were pleased to help the ETUC develop its recent European Quality Framework for Apprentices.

 As the levy is focussed on funding apprenticeships, there are inevitable consequences for wider training and skills in the sector.

 We are concerned about some employers are offering high quality apprenticeships will be unable to recoup all of their levy contributions to fund apprenticeships, due to technicalities in the new system.

 In addition to this there is no statutory position for unions on the newly formed Institute of Apprenticeships which will be responsible for quality assurance in apprenticeships.

 This is a big mistake as we bring experience from industry and manufacturing and we can feed through the views of our members and union reps to help make things work.

 So there is work still to be done to ensure the new system delivers high quality apprenticeships.

 The role of trade unions

Union involvement in developing skills strategies is essential.  Unions can help identify the skills needs of the workforce and also play an essential role in making sure skills programmes are high quality.

 Unite have been at the forefront of negotiating good quality skills and training opportunities for the manufacturing workforce.  We’ve worked with Jaguar Land Rover, BMW and BAE Aerospace and in the science industries to develop gold standard apprenticeship programmes.  We’ve worked with the Sector Skills Councils, SEMTA and Cogent to develop high quality sector standards for training and skills.

 Unite is leading the way on making sure that underrepresented groups have equality of access to training.  We provide guidance to union reps on how to take practical steps to ensure that training programmes are inclusive and many of our young apprentice members are ambassadors in our Unite into Schools programmes.

 Finally, unionlearn and the Union Learning Fund has helped to establish a network of union learning representatives, learning centres and useful tools which help our branches;

 To negotiate with employers to offer good quality training

To identify the future needs of the business and workforce

And to provide support and gain commitment from the workforce    to complete their training.

 This useful toolkit which was published is an additional useful resource which our reps can use to develop workplace learning strategies.

 I hope you have a productive conference and that we can equip our union reps with the tools to develop effective learning strategies.

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