Workplace learning centres can go through peaks and troughs, and This was the case at DHL M&S in Swindon. But the dedicated work of the Unite branch and their team of Learning Reps has seen a big change, and the centre is once again thriving.
The Union Learning Centre at the logistics depot was first set up in 2007, but around 2010 began to fade out. However over the last year the union branch decided to prioritise learning – and the impact has been impressive.
Branch Chair John Bell initially contacted Unites Regional Learning Organisers Roy Winter and Andy Hewlett for some support, and soon the original learning reps were joined by two new ULR’s and they began turning the centre around.
Learning has always been an important part of the union offer at DHL, but there were a number of issues, including a lack of reliable broadband, that meant that the learning centre closed. But that is changing.”
John and the Unite ULR team pulled together an educational plan, then went to management with a proposal to revitalise the centre. They updated the Learning Agreement, with both parties agreeing that colleagues got proper release time to attend sessions – and Unite offered to provide proper internet access in the centre.
They organised a launch event in early 2018 with an open day showcasing the centre and handing out learning needs surveys - they also spoke to workers on different shifts to include everyone – and over 140 colleagues responded. Functional Skills and IT were identified as the main areas of interest – though informal adult learning was also popular, in particular digital photography and languages including Greek, Spanish and Italian.
Netty Vas is one of the Unite ULR’s. She said:
We’ve worked hard to get the learning centre back on its feet, and it is now in constant use. There is a learning committee, made up of the union, management and training providers, which meets monthly to discuss what courses are available to staff.”
The main aim is to encourage an educated workforce in partnership with management. Unite & DHL have signed a learning agreement which includes the provision for staff to attend courses at the centre, on a 50/50 basis. Meaning work and learners commit time to learning, and benefiting both colleagues and the business.”
The Learning Centre is well fitted out with a large number of computers and laptops – allowing staff to access distance learning courses, including health and wellbeing, as well as tutor led learning from Unite’s preferred provider, N-Gaged Training.
We have 40 learners just starting – many will be doing Level 1 or 2 ITQ courses which have weekly 2-hour sessions running for 12 – 15 weeks. We also have groups starting Level 1 and 2 functional skills courses using a mix of paper based or online courses.”
Rob Franklin is Finance Manager at the DHL site. He said that management is happy to work with the union to support skills development and make use of the Learning Centre.
We have a very diverse, and to some extent unskilled, workforce. The work we are doing with the union will help give people the skills that will improve communication and opportunities at work and Health and Safety awareness.”
As well as ESOL the centre is offering IT courses aimed at managers – we share the centre and get to use it when it is not being used as a learning centre. It has been good to work with Unite over the last year and to get things moving again. John and his team of ULRs have been instrumental in taking this forward.”
DHL has a “Warehouse to Wheels” initiative which aims to upskill staff, giving them internal promotion opportunities. They are taking on new drivers all the time – and hope to encourage internal applicates through the initiative.
Transport Manager Phil Wilkins said:
We are using the learning centre facilities to give people the chance to get skills such as Excel so they can work in logistics – this is vital as IT becomes increasingly important with work in logistics.”
Some staff can also use the resources to gain management training and improve their opportunities.
Andy Hewlett is pleased with the way this centre has revitalised itself over the last year and said:
The team at DHL Swindon have been doing a fantastic job and I am really pleased to see the way they are building a learning culture across the workplace.”
Unite is happy to be working with the local branch and the employer to support learning that benefits everyone there and I’m looking forward to seeing the learning centre continue to develop over in the future.”