Keeping URTU members in the driving seat

Road transport union URTU’s successful learning project is helping members keep pace with new technology and automation in road haulage, logistics and distribution.

URTU ULF project manager Jeff Latham

New technology is transforming the three key sectors organised by the United Road Transport Union (URTU), explains England and Wales Project Manager Jeff Latham, and the increasing use of automation is all set to bring further changes in the years ahead.

Jeff said:

HGV drivers, warehousing staff and fork lift truck drivers have seen massive changes creeping into those industries but traditionally they have never had the opportunity to engage with ICT so we are chipping away at the digital divide.”

We want to make sure that the membership and all the staff in those workplaces are able to move with the changes, rather than be displaced or replaced by them.”

With the help of the union, learners new to IT can use the popular Learn My Way package to catch up on exploring the internet, using email and accessing online public services safely and securely. Once they have got to grips with the basics, they can then move on to advanced qualifications such as ECDL, CLAIT and ITQ, with signposting help from their ULR.

And in addition to offering English and maths assessments and free courses through its network of ULRs, the URTU Learning Project also promotes Quick Reads, the annual set of short books aimed at emergent adult readers, and Reading Ahead, the challenge to read and review six books, magazines or poems.

The project also continues to set up bookswap schemes and bookshelf initiatives in workplaces, to create informal opportunities for learners to read more and more widely in a relaxed atmosphere, with none of the pressures of formal learning.

One of the most popular and effective options for members is the wide range of distance learning courses that is available through URTU’s long-standing partnership with Leicester College. These short eight to 12-week courses are available in paperbased and online versions, whichever best suits the individual learner.

Jeff explained

Many courses are vocationally based but they can be in an area where someone would like to develop rather than their current role.”

Where we have people who aspire to be team leaders, they can do an accredited Level 2 course that gives them a stepping stone to where they want to go.”

And there are also options to help learners better deal with issues in their home lives, such as nutrition and health, mental health awareness, dementia care, understanding autism and end-of-life care.

In addition to its network of ULRs, the project also has a small team of project workers to support learning in the workplace. Judith Swift covers the north of England; Simon Walker looks after the Midlands and the south-east; while Agnieszka Zamonski covers the south-west and Wales.

Completing the team is project administrator Claire O’Brien, a fully trained ULR who also provides remote support for the members in Scotland from her base at URTU headquarters in Cheadle Hume, Cheshire.

To promote the opportunities available through the project, Jeff and his team have developed the dedicated website urtuulr.com, which is maintained by Claire. Traffic levels to the site have continued to climb as it has evolved and improved in the five years since it was originally launched.

The site is designed to make it easy for members not only to find out about learning opportunities but also to sign up for any that interest them.

Jeff explained:

If somebody identifies something they want to enrol on, they just click a button and it takes them to the enrolment process with the provider.”

The project also circulates a monthly newsletter that updates members about project news and adult learning in general. And the team also has the benefit of extensive regular coverage in the bi-monthly members’ magazine, Wheels.

Jeff said:

They are very supportive, at our monthly team meetings, we discuss possible articles for future editions because we know we can get them in.”

It’s a good resource to get our message out and the membership do like the coverage – we get a good response from putting pieces in there.”

Like many other ULF project managers, Jeff is very much a product of trade union education himself – although in his case it wasn’t as a member of URTU but as part of one of the predecessor unions to Unite.

After leaving school aged 16, he went straight into paid work and, following the engineering route, spent all of the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s in manufacturing, becoming first a rep and then a senior rep himself.

Jeff recalls

We were very lucky at the time with the culture we had in the workplace: our team of reps saw the value of education and learning and we were able to put through as many courses as we could with the union.”

When the US-based multinational owner closed that UK workplace, Jeff made the switch from attending courses to teaching them for a short time, before spending the next 10 years as a project worker for the North-West TUC. After spending his last two years with the TUC seconded to the URTU Learning Project, Jeff switched to working for the union six years ago.

Jeff said:

It’s been interesting learning a new industry. Whatever sector you work in, the issues are the same – even though each sector will tell you they are unique, there are always the same issues: I don’t see any difference whatsoever!”

Jeff credits his own experience of trade union education with his progress to managing the URTU project today.

Jeff said:

After I left school the only opportunity for education was through the union – and unfortunately we still see that an awful lot now.”

But what became very obvious was that the only difference between the people who had ended up in manual labour because of the way the education system was and the people who could progress independently and take control of their own lives was this second opportunity of education through the union.”

This story first appeared in the Spring 2019 edition of The Learning Rep.