2010 Evaluation of Union Learning Fund and unionlearn

In 2009, following a competitive tendering exercise, unionlearn commissioned the Centre for Employment Relations Innovation and Change (CERIC) at Leeds University Business School to evaluate the impact of unionlearn and Rounds 8-11 of the ULF (covering the period from April 2005 to March 2011).

Please note that while Round 11 projects were considered in the evaluation not all projects had completed in formal reporting terms. The full report – Evaluation of the Union Learning Fund Rounds 8 to 11 and unionlearn - was published in December 2010 and a summary document - Union Learning Adding Value – was published in May 2011.

The 2010 evaluation drew on a rich variety of data sources, including analysis of: more than 11,000 learner records; the coverage, scope and content of 281 learning agreements; interviews with 84 union officers running ULF projects; interviews with 415 employers involved in ULF and other union learning activity; and, interviews with key stakeholder organisations including unions, partner organisations, Sector Skills Councils and government. The study also produced 15 detailed case studies.

The key finding of the evaluation is that union learning pays off for everyone involved and that additionality is evident at a number of levels. The evaluation concludes that "union learning has largely met its stated objectives and has delivered demonstrable benefits for learners, employers and unions." Nearly nine out of ten employers said that they would continue to be involved with union learning activities, with 63% saying that there was a benefit to the organisation and 81% that there was a benefit to the individual.

Some of the major benefits that employers highlighted included four in ten saying union learning had supported improved take-up of job related training whilst around half said it led to improved achievement of qualifications by staff, enhanced equality of access to learning and training in the workplace, and fewer skills gaps.

There were also business benefits and a boost for the union role in the workplace. The evaluation reports a third of employers saying that organisational performance had improved as a result and four in ten citing improved employee engagement. Around half of the employers also reported improved union-employer relations on learning and training and a similar proportion said that there had been a discernible improvement in wider industrial relations.

According to the evaluation union learning is also generating increased investment in learning and training by employers. Four out of 10 said that they provided financial contributions in support of union learning, with an average investment of £23,000 from those that put a figure on that contribution. Employers also made significant "in-kind" contributions, including equipment (69%), office space (71%), learning centres (52%), ULR time (77%), management time (58%) and employee time (73%).

Individual learners also benefit hugely, especially those that face the greatest barriers to learning and training. The evaluation concludes that "union learning has resulted in accredited learning opportunities for learners with few or no formal qualifications [and that] successive learning activity has led, for a significant majority of learners (around one third), to an increase in qualification level [and] this in turn has contributed to work-related and transferable skills." It also concludes that "ULRs were a key factor in engaging learners, as was the location of learning at the workplace to help reduce barriers to access."

Empowering individuals to progress to further learning was another key indicator of the effectiveness of union learning. The evaluation found that of the one-third of employees who had progressed, half of them improved on existing qualifications by one level, almost half improved by two levels and almost one in ten by three levels. The evaluation also highlighted value for money issues with a much lower degree of deadweight (23%) for union learning compared to that for mainstream government programmes (around 45%). In other words, this suggests that around three quarters of union learners would not have engaged in learning or training without the direct intervention of ULF/unionlearn activity whilst the equivalent proportion for mainstream programmes would have been just over half.