2013 Impact Analysis of Union Learning Fund and unionlearn

In late 2012, unionlearn commissioned CERIC (Leeds University Business School) to conduct a follow-up study, building on the analysis of the employer dataset they had undertaken for the 2010 evaluation and the analyses of learner datasets that they had undertaken for the 2010 and 2012 evaluations.

There was a particular interest in following up the employers that had some form of engagement with union learning that were interviewed for the 2010 evaluation

The original employer survey elicited 415 responses – the follow-up survey was conducted for a 5 week period during January and February 2013 and elicited 169 responses – a 41 per cent response rate. Out of these 169 employers, just under a quarter (24%) were currently involved with a recognised trade union on a ULF project, while over two-thirds (68 per cent) reported that they had previously been involved in a ULF project.

The union learner records were drawn from data relating to union learners participating in European Social Fund funded programmes supported by secondary analysis of ULF Management Information relating to learning activity.

The final report – Union Learning Impact Report – was published in June 2013 and some of the key findings evidencing the positive impact of union learning activity in the workplace were as follows:

  • The ULF is a driver of employer engagement with unions around the learning agenda. Those employers still involved with a ULF project were much more likely to be involved with all types of union learning activity
  • Almost half the employers reported a cash contribution in support of union learning and the overall level of employer contribution (including "in-kind" contributions) held up very well between 2010 and 2013, despite the recession and general downturn in employer spending on training
  • Three quarters of employers felt their organisation got a return on investment in union learning activity (although it has to be noted that only one in ten undertook a formal cost-benefit analysis of their engagement in union learning)
  • Two thirds of employers stated employee demand for learning had increased especially amongst those with little history of taking part in learning or training
  • The impact of union learning on employer learning practices remained high, and had increased in some areas. The impact on wider (non-learning) organisational indicators suggested that staff morale, improvements in staff turnover and levels of trust in the workplace had all increased. A third of workplaces also reported that union learning had contributed to improvements in the quality of work
  • The existence of workplace supports such as a learning committee or negotiation on training were associated with specific outcomes such as greater equality in access to learning and improvements in staff morale
  • Interestingly, the analysis suggested that union learning and strong organisational training practice may not be complementary. In other words, that unions make most difference where employers have relatively weak training practice or are not that strategic about staff development
  • Union learning helps learners progress. Just over a third (39%) of learners progressed in terms of participating in learning that was at least one level higher than their prior level of qualification. This figure rose to almost three quarters of learners with a prior level of qualification below Level 2
  • Union learning engages learners from a broad range of educational background. However, participation and achievement (in terms of qualification gain) was most strong among those with lower prior levels of qualification. When learners were brought into learning via the union learning route, learners participating in Skills for Life and level 1 programmes had a high likelihood of progression in terms of learning levels or 'skills-uplift'
  • The strongest predictor of progression was the extent of multiple union learning episodes. The more types of learning undertaken, the more likely learners were to progress. This suggests that within union learning participation in a mix of information advice and guidance (IAG), non-vocational and vocational learning over time supports learner progression