Adult Learning has come a long way from what we knew it. There are many elements to Adult Learning and many benefits for the Learner, their employer, their family and society as a whole. The Government recognised that there was a skills gap in the Adult population. People were leaving the traditional educational institutions without the Essential Skills needed to participate in society and in work. These Essential Skills were identified as numeracy, literacy and ICT (Information Communication Technology). As a result of this skills gap, the Government introduced the Union Learning Fund (ULF). This fund was introduced into Northern Ireland in 2003 following its implementation in the United Kingdom the previous year.
As a Trade Union Official, I have responsibility for the Project Management and implementation of the NIPSA ULF for our Union. There are several other Unions in Northern Ireland that also avail of this fund and over the years we have delivered on Learner Outcomes in relation to the Essential Skills. This success has meant that the NI Assembly has recognised the benefits in this fund, how it is administered and the outcomes that it delivers - meaning that it is value for money.
Over the years the NI ULF budget has not been cut even throughout the Austerity measures – this speaks volumes about the success of the network of Union Learning Representatives (ULRs) who have particular functions that enable the Project Managers to reach their targets and outcomes. The Government also recognised that as Union Reps are best placed to gain the trust of staff in organisations they too are the best people to identify any Learning needs that they may have. This is where the role of a Union Learning Representative (ULR) comes in. The trade union movement has a long history in adult learning as their core value is to Educate Agitate and Organise.
NIPSA has been involved in the ULF for almost 10 years now and has seen many successes over those years. The benefits for the individual who begin their ‘learning journey’ are numerous. They range from increased self-confidence and self-worth to gaining a qualification and going on to develop their personal development. The employer gains in this too as the employee is better skilled and qualified and is more motivated and confident to carry out their job. They will give more to the organisation who have invested time and training in them. In the learners family they will be demonstrating to their family that learning is natural, essential and can take place at any age and that learning is a continuous process in life. It demonstrates that there are various avenues open to them to learning and if the educational institutions fail them there is always another way to achieve a qualification. This hopefully will break the cycle of people leaving schools without the Essential Skills and society in turn will benefit.
Róisín Graham, NIPSA Trade Union Official
My area of work is representing members in Education and Further Education. I have been in the role of NIPSA’s ULF Project Co-Ordinator for almost 10 years and I have been a Trade Union Tutor for almost 15 years. I have been an advocate for educating people in whatever way is best for them for a long time and I believe that you learn best in a relaxed and safe and secure environment – you learn more when you want to and when you are having fun. I myself availed of learning opportunities as an adult and I firmly believe that you are never too young or too old to learn – we continue learning throughout our lives. As a trade unionist I believe that we should learn to educate ourselves to be aware of our rights as employees and that with this knowledge comes power in that we are empowered ourselves for the better.