It’s never too late for someone to learn how to save a life

As a lead Union Learning Rep for the Communication Workers Union, Jan James has organised a huge variety of learning opportunities for hundreds of her colleagues in BT and Openreach in South Wales. From IT and keyboard skills, to conflict management, mental health, stress and dementia awareness workshops, staff at both companies have benefited from the wide range of courses on offer.

Jan’s passion for helping others to learn is clear but it is her latest initiative, offering First Aid and CPR training, which she is particularly keen to see taken up. Not least because just a few weeks after the first course was delivered, Jan was contacted by one of the learners to say that the course had helped him in a real life emergency.

Jan takes up the story:

I’d worked with the British Heart Foundation to set up training on First Aid and CPR for staff at BT. As part of the Heart Start Campaign, the British Heart Foundation offered to provide some training free of charge BT were very supportive and allowed staff who wanted to come to attend the training during work. The First Aid course included training with a ‘Choking Charlie’ manikin for realistic, practical training, so that learners could practice what to do in the event of someone choking. Learners also had training on how to carry out resuscitation and the use of automatic defibrillators. 

I couldn’t believe it when just a few weeks after the course, one of the learners, Christian Harrold, contacted me to say that he had used the training to help his daughter after she had started choking. They had been having a family meal when all of a sudden she had got a piece of steak lodged in her throat. It was completely stuck and to his horror she started choking.  It wasn’t coming out so using his training, he was able to carry out the Heimlich manoeuvre and safely clear her airway. Instead of panicking he knew exactly what to do and his actions undoubtedly saved his daughter’s life.

Afterwards, Christian contacted me to say how thankful he was that he was given the opportunity to attend this course through the union, as without it he wouldn’t have known what to do. He is now going to speak at our next learning event to promote the course to others. What happened has made me more determined than ever to get these courses out there to as many people as possible. It just shows that you never know when it might help you to save a life! Many people have an idea about what they should do in an emergency, but it is having the confidence to carry it through which I think is why having the practical training is so important. I would like to see all the staff in BT have access to this training to become life savers."

As well her campaign to promote the First Aid and CPR courses, Jan has continued to organise numerous other training opportunities for colleagues. She has set up a workplace learning centre where staff can access online training courses and a library and resource centre.

Using funding from the Wales Union Learning Fund (WULF), we’ve been able to buy equipment and cover course costs. We’ve run many of IT and keyboard skills courses in the learning centre and they have been really popular. Many of the learners have gone on to do the European Computer Driving Licence which is a highly regarded qualification. I have trained as an invigilator for Learndirect so that staff are able to take the assessment tests for the course on site rather than having to take time out to go to the college, which makes it easier for them to complete the course. We’ve also been able to offer the CWU’s Left Click programme of online courses to our members, which include free courses on IT, languages and photography so I’ve been helping lots of people enrol on those."

There has been a marked increase in morale and confidence noticeable among those who have taken up training. As Jan explains:

Many staff have told me that they’ve found the courses have helped to boost their confidence and they’ve become quicker and more effective in their work. So the employer has seen the benefits as well with increased productivity, better morale and reduced sickness absence."

As well as the group courses, Jan has helped secure individual funding for staff seeking to retrain in a different field due to changes at work. She says:

I was able to secure WULF funding for a couple of women who wanted to do training to become classroom assistants and another who wanted to do a counselling course. This was good timing for them because around this time the company announced they were transferring many staff from Newport to Cardiff. These women were not able to transfer to Cardiff due to having small children and the additional travel time involved. Doing the courses enabled them to move on to new jobs in their local area whereas without the training they might have been left without work. So I was very pleased that we were able to help with that."

Recently, Jan has also trained as a dyslexia assessor which means she is able to offer confidential dyslexia assessments to staff on site. She explains:

I can carry out assessments to identify dyslexic tendencies. By identifying the condition, we’ve been able to help staff access the right help and get support in place. Having the right support makes a huge difference. In several cases, when people were undiagnosed, managers had mistaken their difficulties for incapability and they have been threatened with the sack but by getting the right support in place we’ve been able to help save people’s jobs."

It is an issue close to Jan’s own heart, as she was herself diagnosed with the condition relatively recently.

I didn’t do very well in school. I was told I was stupid and as the ‘class clown’ was very disruptive. This was because it was easier to disrupt and get sent out of the class than to try to do the work. I have always found learning to be more difficult and it takes more time for me than it does for others. It was only years later that I had a ‘Eureka!’ moment when attending a Dyslexia Awareness course in my ULR role – I realised that I wasn’t thick, I had dyslexia! Knowing this took a huge weight off my shoulders and I was able to see myself in a new light."

Jan now has a new found confidence and is keen to use this positive energy to help others.

Going through this experience myself is one of the many reasons why I want to continue to help and support adults getting back in to learning. I am able to be empathetic and offer help and advice to those with dyslexia."

Jan is now the Learning Coordinator for her branch, supporting many other ULRs and with responsibility for arranging training for CWU reps across South Wales. She has also been elected as Chair of the CWU’s Wales National Learning Committee. She is currently busy organising a training weekend for ULRs.

I like to get involved in organising training for other union learning reps as well, as I think sometimes we spend so much time arranging learning for others that we forget about ourselves! But I believe that as a ULR you must also become an ambassador for learning, and the only way that you can do this is by undertaking learning yourself. So I always attend training when I can, such as the Wales TUC ULR seminars and networking events."

Jan’s dedication and outstanding work as a Union Learning Rep has been recognised at a national level by her own union, who presented her with the Ken McKenzie Lifelong Learning Award.

I have had a huge amount of support from my branch, from the CWU WULF Project Manager, Kim Johnson, who has always been on hand to give advice and support and from Roger Jones of the Wales TUC. Before I started on this journey, I would always be the one to shy away from anything challenging or putting myself in the limelight. It was one of my friends who was a ULR who suggested I should become a ULR too. I didn’t really know much about the role beforehand but for some reason I thought ‘why not’? So I gave it a go and I loved it! I’m so glad I did and I’m really pleased to now be supporting others to become ULRs."