First in Manchester driving through learning barriers

First Manchester (Part of First UK Bus), which employs over 1800 bus drivers, continues to invest in its employees with the same rigor it invests in its business. The company offers its staff, flexible training and learning opportunities, and central to the successful learning taking place at First Bus Manchester Depot, are Unite ULRs; Paul Brown, Stuart Smith and Bob Holt. Paul, Stuart and Bob are fully qualified to deliver and support Numeracy, Literacy and ESOL, and in partnership with Unite, the company paid for their training costs.

Bob and Stuart have worked tirelessly over the last 5 years to design and deliver bespoke ESOL training and learning opportunities at their on-site learning centre. The learning centre has 10 PCs, paid for by Unite. The company covers the running costs of the learning centre, including staff costs, broadband, stationary and learning materials.

Stuart said: “First Manchester have a positive approach to Lifelong Learning and the senior management team appreciate the benefits that have been made to the business. We are an industry that is heavily regulated and it is important that all colleagues understand the regulations that apply to their particular role, especially in the area of safety and injury prevention. These are key issues for the business and were the initial motive for ESOL materials that were developed to support mainstream training.”

According to Stuart the impetus for creating a bespoke programme was the number of migrant staff who found the regional dialects to be difficult and needed fundamental support with their English. Stuart and Bob have produced specific material to support their training (initially focused on workplace hazards, industry regulations, as well as encouraging staff to become more comfortable in speaking English in an everyday context) and the company also uses their expertise to monitor learning throughout the business.

First in Manchester currently employs 32 migrant workers in its Manchester depot and the learning culture established at the depot has made a fundamental difference to the progression of those employees in regard to both their careers, as well as their English language abilities. Both Stuart and Bob have focused their attention on fostering a relaxed learning environment, with a flexible approach to learning, in order to suit the shift patterns of staff at the company.

ESOL sessions are offered on Saturday mornings and Wednesdays, with ‘drop in’ sessions available most days of the week. The Unite/First UK Bus National Learning Agreement allows for partners to take part in lifelong learning opportunities and this is reflected in the profile of the Saturday class.

The First Manchester lifelong learning team have benefited from membership of the North West Collective Learning Fund Pilot (CLF). The CLF programme funded a number of “Out of Classroom Activities” (We used to call them class trips), where the learners have been able to learn something of the history, geography and culture of the North West. To date, they have visited Chester, Liverpool, Windermere and a number of museums and National Trust properties in the region. Membership of the CLF pilot has brought together the First Manchester team with ULRs from other companies who have experienced difficulties with ESOL provision. Best practices have been shared and currently, a number of learners from a local McVities factory are attending the Saturday class.

Depot support worker, Gosia Piasecka said: “I moved to Manchester over 5 years ago and couldn’t speak a word of English. I started attending the ESOL classes on Saturdays and found the relaxed and friendly environment made it easier to learn. It’s not like school where you have to learn – here you are encouraged and supported every step of the way by the ULRs. My confidence has improved greatly and I am now able to communicate without the need for a translator and I can converse in English with my Mom and sister with confidence.”

Gosia is a shining example of what can be achieved and as her English has improved; she has been given more and more opportunities at work, including her most recent appointment to the First UK Bus North Region Charity & Sponsorship Committee, where her role includes, reading lengthy charity applications and engaging in regular committee meetings at the company. Gosia has now progressed to mainstream lifelong learning and has L2 qualifications in Maths, English and ECDL, and she is currently studying for a PTTLS qualification.

The company clearly recognises the importance of training staff and providing opportunities for life-long learning. The improvement in the confidence of the staff is self evident, with many migrant staff progressing in their careers with the company as a result. Such an approach has delivered real benefits, such as reducing staff turnover and increasing profitability. Staff morale and community cohesion have been enhanced as a result of this programme.