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The Union Learning Fund (ULF) was established in 1998 to promote activity by trade unions in support of the objective of creating a learning society. Its initial aim was to develop the capacity of trade unions and Union Learning Representatives (ULRs) to work with employers, employees and learning providers to encourage greater take up of learning in the workplace. The rationale for union involvement in skills is in addressing market failures and this recognises the unique role of unions at the workplace that enables them to engage with workers and employers to advocate for learning and build structures at the workplace (ULRs, learning agreements, learning centres) and partnerships with providers that helps turn engagement into participation.
The scope of the ULF has gradually developed over the last 20 years as union capacity has grown and government strategic objectives have changed and unions have been encouraged to work on new priorities especially tackling disadvantage and promoting equality, increasing social mobility, improving basic skills, (English, maths and Digital), helping people access work and adapt to change at work and the lengthening of working life, supporting high quality apprenticeships and supporting unions to maximise the impact of the apprenticeship levy. The ULF also aims to assist unions to develop innovative solutions to skills issues and to contribute to developing the skills required by key infrastructure developments (such as HS2, Hinkley Point and Heathrow) and regional and sector skills plans.
The ULF is managed and administered by unionlearn, the TUC’s Learning and Skills Organisation under an agreement with the Department for Education (DfE) which directs the level and type of learning activity that should be supported by the Fund.