Wales Union Learning Fund – Delivering Fairness and Progression in the Workplace

16th May 2022

Article by ArcolaResearch LLP
03 May 2022

One of the objectives of the COMORELP project is to analyse and strengthen adult lifelong (LLL) learning experiences and principles across Europe. Five learning regions have been identified (Emilia Romana, Istanbul, Malopolska, Rhone-Alpes and Wales) for further analysis and research. Arcola Research, as one of the partners of the project, have been looking into Wales as a learning region. Through initial exploratory research of interviews with key stakeholders, document analysis and online analysis we’ve identified 15 innovative practices for Lifelong Learning in Wales. The Wales Union Learning Fund (WULF) stands out as a particularly interesting example whose approach may benefit other LLL practices across Europe.

Through WULF we see how innovative practices shape LLL policy and provide important insights into current and future skill-gap and training needs. Although WULF is funded by the Welsh Government, it has a flexible and “bottom up” approach where Unions and employers can meet the training needs of their workforce. This agile model has made the WULF project go from strength to strength, and it has evolved to the important practice it is today.

WULF is funded by the Wales Government and administered by Wales TUC Learning Services. The purpose of the fund is to help people living and working in unionised workplaces in Wales access support, advice and funding for vocational training and personal development. Since its inception in 1999, WULF has successfully delivered union led adult learning in the workplace for thousands of people. It is important to note that this offer is available to all Welsh workers of unionised organisations, not just those that hold a union membership.

Each project in the WULF Programme is unique, reflecting the different types of workplaces where the union is active. Projects can include support for essential skills, including digital literacy, bespoke courses to meet specific vocational/professional learning needs, redundancy support, help during career or organisational changes and promoting equality, health and wellbeing at work through learning.

A commissioned WULF 2020-21 learner survey carried out by Wavehill, shows that during 2020-21 the Wales Union Learning Fund fostered increased participation, improved equality of access and enabled workers to progress in both their own personal development and their careers. Over 8,000 people received support from WULF on 2020/21 of which

  • 98 percent found the training useful
  • 91 percent reported that the training was relevant to their job
  • 69 percent reported the training had improved their work performance

Meeting on March 28th to launch the new WULF 2022-2025 Programme. The event was sponsored by the Minister for Economy, Vaughan Gething who spoke to highlight the reasons why Welsh Government continue to support the programme.

In March 2022 it was announced that more than £13million will go to further develop and deliver skills solutions and learning support to workers over the next three years (2022-25). In his speech at the launch on 28. March 2022, the Welsh Economy Minister Vaughan Gething said:

“The WULF delivered positive outcomes for workers during the incredibly challenging conditions created by the coronavirus pandemic, and I want to see that success continue as we transition to a greener economy that is more prosperous for all.”

The new 2022-25 WULF programme is now being rolled out, where 18 different unions will receive funding. Although the programme continues to be developed, the focus remain the same, to provide a range of activities to upskill individuals in the workplace and progress their career aspirations. The next stage of the programme will also build on the flexibility and innovation of the programme during the pandemic, when it focused on helping workers who experienced redeployment into different roles, furlough, and job losses.

The Welsh Government’s Programme for Government commits Ministers to building on the success of WULF, through greater promotion of workplace learning opportunities. This is aligned to key welsh LLL policies such as the Young Person’s Guarantee and prioritising decarbonisation. It will also support the ambitions set out in the recently published Stronger, Fairer, Greener Wales: A Plan for Employability and Skills, including fair work for all, and helping people in employment to access better jobs, upskill and boost their career prospects.

The COMORELP project is excited to share this innovative practice with our learning community across Europe and sees it as an excellent example where employers recognise the benefits of working in partnership with unions to upskill their workforce.

As summarised by Wales TUC General Secretary Shavanah Taj:

“I am particularly pleased to see that the ‘uniqueness’ of Welsh union led learning is evident and transformative. Significant numbers of WULF learners were given paid release to undertake learning and over one fifth received wider advice from their union on their rights at work whilst engaging in the programme. Showing that collective bargaining underpins workplace learning to make it fairer, more equitable and more sustainable, it’s truly a ‘fair work approach’ to skills.”

Supporting material

WULF 2022-2025 Programme directly support key LLL policies:

  1. The Employability Plan
  2. Young Person’s Guarantee
  3. Fair Work Commission’s recommendations

Article written in April 2022

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