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Unions can provide the variety of resources and services that the unemployed need

Across the UK, unions are helping the young unemployed people. Unions, employers and the third sector are working together on skills to help people back into work; particularly NEETS and the disadvantaged.

Unions have always been passionate about education and its ability to transform lives. We have always understood that access to learning, including learning the vital soft skills needed for work, is unequal and disadvantages have often been built in from early years. Community learning is a vital part of the work to try and undo the disadvantages people face and to reach some of the people for whom returning to the classroom is not an option. Union reps work with young people learn skills, like good time-keeping  and with employers to understand what skills young people may need. This work has been undertaken in unions but also on wider level through community learning champions.

Unionlearn has been working closely with employers, the Campaign for Learning, with Niace and other community organisations, looking to develop both policy ideas and practical help.

Next week we are leading a conference which will bring together a range of speakers to look at this area. The aim will be to start to find out more about how unions, employers, civil society and community organisations can join together to help people into work.

Among those addressing the conference will be the skills minister, John Hayes MP and the former foreign secretary David Miliband MP, chair of the Commission on Youth Unemployment. It is heartening to see both government and opposition engaging with the idea of community and union learning and continuing to acknowledge its importance.

In these times of tight fiscal settlements and scaling back of government programmes this is one of the areas that are at serious risk as high profile and politically sensitive areas take priority. It is essential this support for the young unemployed continues.

As anyone working in this field will understand the need for developing skills is even more vital as we strive to grow the economy. We can’t grow the economy if we don’t grow the people and we can’t grow the people if we leave up to one in 4 young people out of work.

Work on community and union learning is vital to identifying skills shortages, for finding those who have fallen through the education net and for ensuring that we link-up with those hard to reach people who are most in need of learning.

The work and ideas that will emerge from the conference next week will be important because it is only through partnership working that community learning really has a chance of succeeding and of being effective.

A good example of this are the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, who have built a very successful network with unions and community groups to help young people gain better skills and then into full-time work.

We must build the networks and partnerships that can access a range of services and offer options to a diverse set of communities. Only by tapping into different perspectives, expertise and skills can we ensure that we provide the variety of resources and services that the unemployed need. Across the UK, Unions are doing exactly that.

Tom Wilson is director of unionlearn, the TUC's learning and skills organisation

Read other FE News articles by Tom Wilson:

Equalities – a trade union priority

The real value of skills and training

FE sector deserves the proper use and monitoring of funding

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