Memorandum from Usdaw (ILA 23)
The Usdaw Experience of Individual Learning
1. Usdaw has 310,000 members, 64 per cent
of whom are women, 100,000 are part-time, and 5 per cent are black
an/or ethnic minority. The vast majority of Usdaw members are
on the wrong side of the learning and the digital divide. Most
are women "returners", part-time workers or manual workers,
who usually work in jobs that do not attract development from
their employers. They tend to be below level 2 in qualification
level, and believe their formal learning days are over.
2. Like other trade unions Usdaw has been
campaigning to re-engage our members in adult learning. To succeed
in this we need to achieve three core things:
Make learning accessibleLearning
needs to be delivered to suit peoples busy working lives. This
means making its accessible in its style of teaching, at convenient
times that fit around work and family commitments and at convenient
venuesusually in or near the workplace.
Make potential learners confidentkey
to raising confidence is to use the "community" that
is the workplace to encourage returning to learning. Trained learning
reps, peer group supporters, are invaluable for this.
Make learning affordableFor
low and lower paid workers the cost of learning is an immense
barrier. Individual Learning Accounts were the main way to deal
3. To engage our members in learning we
have developed a method that involves working in partnership with
employers and providers to deliver learning in or near the workplace,
at times to suit different shift patterns. Often this learning
takes place in people's own time. A key component of this approach
is to make learning affordable, and to have a network of learning
reps who will encourage potential learners and help them with
their applications for financial support.
Usdaw is working in Partnership on
one or more sites with Littlewoods, Argos/Reality, Sainsburys,
Tesco, Kays, Redcats UK, Wincanton, Heinz and Ethal Austins among
In a Call Center in Bolton with 700
staff, learning reps succeeded in encouraging 497 people to apply
for an ILA.
To date we estimate Usdaw Learning
Reps encouraged more than 4,790 people to take out ILAs of whom
more than 2,561 people opened an account since April 2001.
4. Learning reps have succeeded in engaging
learners in a wide variety of subjects for personal and career
development including CLAIT and ECDL computer courses, Basic skills,
Spanish, and Signing.
In Argos/Reality in Wigan, 12.6 per
cent of the 1,100 staff re-engaged in leaning in the first year
of the partnership attending courses in a variety of subjects
in an on-site Learning Center.
5. Unless Learning can be made affordable
for the low and the lower paid, there is little chance of narrowing
the learning and the digital divide. The replacement for the ILA
is the key to this.
6. ILAs were set up with two aims: 1. To
encourage non-learners to return to learning by making learning
affordable; and, 2. To stimulate a market for learning and encourage
new providers to establish themselves. These twin aims resulted
in a system that ways easy to access for the learner, but also
for the fraudster and the poor quality provider.
7. It is widely agreed that the ILAs were
a great success at helping adults return to learning. This is
not only confirmed by Usdaw's experience but also by a number
of surveys. One reason for this was because, at least in its initial
stages, it was relatively burocrat free. This was gradually being
undermined by security checks introduced to the application process.
8. The lack of quality control over both
providers and the learning meant that fraudsters and poor quality
providers were bound to take advantage of the market.
9. A further issue concerns the size of
the "deadweight" of already existing adult learners
who used ILAs.
10. The key feature of the new system should
be to place the emphasis on making learning affordable for the
learner rather than being a vehicle for stimulating an unregulated
11. Consequently another key feature of
the new system should be that the ILA is as easy as possible for
the learner to access.
12. To regulate the market, there should
be some quality threshold that should be established before a
provider can be registered. This would protect the good providers
from being undermined by the poor and the criminal providers,
and the public purse from fraud.
13. As well as a quality check on the provider,
there should be a quality check on the learning that takes place.
There could be an expectation that the ILA user would achieve
a qualification. Where a provider did not achieve a certain percentage
of learners with qualifications, an inspection could be triggered.
If there were satisfactory explanations (because of the nature
of the learners, for example) then the provider would remain on
the register. If not, they would be removed from the register.
14. One of the advantages of the early versions
of the ILA was that it could be used for all learning except "recreation
and leisure". If a new ILA was restricted to learning at
level two and below, it may be possible to deal with the issue
of "deadweight" and return to the original broad ILA.
15. A further possibility would be to explore
the idea of pooling ILAs to form a Learning Account. It may be
possible to encourage employers to contribute to a collective
account and so lever in additional funding.
Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw)