CWU Union Learning Fund project delivers digital skills

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) Union Learning Fund (ULF) project is helping workers progress in Royal Mail and BT, according to a new impact study by the Marchmont Observatory at the University of Exeter.

CWU member at work
©JessHurd

By delivering the digital skills members need in an era of increasing automation, the project is also equipping them with the tools to deal with rapid change. The study is one of five produced for unionlearn that examine how the ULF is making a difference for learners, employers and unions.

The studies combine interviews with learners, employers, stakeholders and ULF Project Managers with econometric analysis of the skills and qualifications obtained and the benefits for the economy, individuals and employers. Progression has become much more usual thanks to CWU learning, the study shows.

ULF Project Manager Paul Dovey is quoted as saying in the impact report:

It’s normal now for people to move.”

For example, CWU learner Umar Farooq, who works in the Swindon Royal Mail depot, studied English and IT through the union and is now a shift manager.

Similarly, the learning opportunities promoted at the Heathrow Worldwide Distribution Centre (HWDC) by Lead ULR Parminder Kaur are helping more women move up the career ladder. One learner progressed from English and maths at Level 2 to a Level 3 management apprenticeship and she is now a deputy manager at HWDC.

With the cost of poor digital skills still evident across the sector, the CWU aims to offer multiple opportunities to engage with IT by making it relevant and non-threatening and creating multiple entry points and pathways to help learners progress as far as they want to go.

Umar said:

There is an ongoing need for … IT as we are changing from conventional to new technology and therefore need new IT skills.”

We have some new machines and are just bringing them in – transitioning – so we train also – and the resource centre is really helpful.”

The growth of workplace learning is also helping Royal Mail and BT reduce absenteeism, the report says. Managers in Royal Mail have linked the provision supported by the ULF to enhanced staff retention and a decline in absenteeism:

One manager is quoted as saying:

Absenteeism and sickness absence is reduced when people get the training – it always reduces as they realise they have the skills to do the work.”

Previously some staff have lacked the skills or just thought they did, so there could be a lot of sickness absence.”

One of the report’s key recommendations is to extend the use of apprenticeships in Royal Mail, which has traditionally used apprenticeships far less than CWU’s other major employer, BT.

The report says:

The relatively limited use of apprenticeships within Royal Mail given the potential within the Levy is puzzling.”

This story first appeared in the Autumn 2019 Learning Rep.