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Highlight Round table: Theory, policy and practice in lifelong learning

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Subject Steel Partnership Training - UK (Emma Wallis, Mark Stuart & Andrew Murray)
Outline During recent decades restructuring within the UK steel industry has required employees to have a broader range of skills.  Restructuring has, however, also highlighted the need for workers to embrace lifelong learning in order to increase their employability by gaining transferable skills. 
   The trade unioin ISTC took the decision to facilitate the development of training and learning opportunities for steel industry employees themselves, and Steel Partnership Training (SPT) was established in order to fulfil this role: to promote lifelong learning within steel communities, and learning opportunities for displaced workers. 
    SPT sometimes provides training directly, but more often the organisation facilitates the provision of learning opportunities for workers within the steel and metal sector, by drawing down funding from European and UK government sources in order to run projects that enable partnerships of local employers, colleges, and other training providers to develop tailored learning opportunities for displaced workers, and those under threat of redundancy.  Each local partnership therefore involves different actors reflecting local circumstances and priorities. 
    SPT addresses the training and learning agenda on a number of levels. Whilst some of the local learning partnerships have developed in response to plant level closures or restructuring, and therefore have the objective of facilitating redundant steel and metal sector workers gaining transferable skills which will increase their employability in the labour market beyond the steel and metal sector, other learning partnerships, have been instituted in order to promote lifelong learning, especially within workplace settings where workers are likely to be facing redundancy.  A third group of learning partnerships however, have emerged in order to attempt to bridge the gap between the trade union and the employer agendas with respect to training and learning. 
    The activities of SPT raise questions about whether the workplace or the community is the most appropriate locus for trade union activity in the field of learning. It could be argued that SPTís community based initiatives for displaced workers have enabled learning opportunities to be developed that reflect the needs of labour to a greater extent than those developed within the workplace. This however, perhaps reflects that workers displaced from, and those remaining within, the steel industry have a different relationship with the labour market, and that the workplace, unlike the community is a contested arena for learning.
    By outlining a number of key projects and innovations advanced by SPT, the paper highlights some of the benefits that can accrue from such a trade union-led strategy. However, given the imperatives of capitalist restructuring and the contradictory dynamics of SPTís strategy and practice, the case reveals some of the key challenges that trade unions face in engaging with the lifelong learning agenda.
Source Selected passages from the authors' paper "A trade union-led partnership for lifelong learning in the UK steel industry: Meaningful collaboration or complicity with the objectives of capital?" presented at the HRD conference in Toulouse, May 2003 (see proceedings)
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