Lifelong learning is a union of ambitions

People at work are more interested in recognition for their skills than any
other aspect of their work. It is this recognition of their skills that people
are talking about when we discuss "valuing" people.

Self-respect at work leads to people making a contribution. If that
contribution is recognised, then the enthusiasm to re-double effort is plain to
see. It is in this context that investment in the human capital – training, to
you and me – has to be viewed.

Training may be worthy and desirable but it is always optional. I know that
most trade unions as well as most managements do not welcome government
intervention in any aspect of our affairs at work. But the role of government
in training issues is wholly honourable, given the low priority we have given
this issue in the past.

Before anyone thinks I am suffering an attack of self-righteousness here,
let me say that trade unions have not been without guilt. Unions and their
members have long known that skills in short supply mean high, sometimes extortionate,
wages for those lucky enough to have the skills in demand. Such people have no
interest in increasing the skills base of the nation.

The Government’s intervention has produced an explosion of good work. The
whole status of learning at work has risen to close to the top of the pile.
Companies can now invest in training for skills, conscious that it is an
everyday truism that only those companies who invest in their people will be
able to take full advantage of the relatively rosy trading environment we live
in today.

Unions are as involved as everyone else. The Union Learning Fund is now
giving money to unions as leaders of consortia in the community to develop our
commitment to lifelong learning. Unions are working with education authorities
and employers to train thousands of learner representatives to pass on the news
about training in-company and in everyone’s local towns.

And unions and employers together are addressing the social exclusion of
youngsters all around them. Every young person helped to become a fitter, say,
rather than a burglar helps us all, and brings unions and employers together to
build relationships and respect that is highly transferable to other parts of
factory and office life.

As ever, there is a catch. Lifelong learning has fallen prey to an
overwhelming number of institutional interventions. There are millions of
bodies with indigestible initiatives showering over us all. Constitutional
reform of the institutions is consuming so much time and money. And still we
have not simplified the maze of qualifications that their mothers have heard

But let us not be negative. Lifelong learning will be a permanent testimony
to this government’s grasp of the importance of work-based training long after
all of us have forgotten who the Mayor of London is. Honest.

By John Lloyd

National officer, Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union

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