Partnership Training - UK (Emma Wallis, Mark Stuart & Andrew Murray)
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.
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)