JACKIE Dawson used to be embarrassed about the quality of her spelling and writing. Ever since enrolling on a basic skills course organised by her union, the Ceramic and Allied Trades Union however, Ms Dawson's confidence has grown in leaps and bounds, writes Simon Midgley.
"I had a great time," she said. "I felt relaxed about being on the course. It was not a bit like school. I am much more confident now and no longer feel so embarrassed about writing or spelling."
Initially CATU and Stoke College's trade union studies unit developed a pilot key skills course delivered via IT. Some 450 union members in the Potteries enrolled.
From this evolved a lifelong learning project, funded by the Union Learning Fund, designed to improve basic skills, such as literacy, and key skills, such as IT. One hundred learners including Ms Dawson enrolled.
For her the course has meant a new lease of life. Before returning to learning she had never used a computer. "I would never in a million years have considered basic skills training.
"The union has really made a difference to my life," she said.
Workers like Ms Dawson were encouraged to improve their basic skills by one of CATU's 28 learning representatives in the Midlands region.
Tracy Taylor, a Wedgewood shop steward, who went n a learner representative training course, said: "We didn't know what we were letting ourselves in for. Our tutor set us tasks to carry out at work such as speaking to members about their learning needs and about what had prevented them taking up opportunities earlier.
"We started to get a feel for people's needs which had never beenmet. Lots of our members were pretty apprehensive and only by allaying those fears were they prepared to take the course up."
Anne Casey, the CATU project worker and lecturer in the trade union studies department of Stoke College, tells the story of another learner taking part in the project.
"He was terrified at first but as he gained in confidence he asked how to spell a name.
"He then typed it into a computer and said with real pride 'That's my daughter's name - I could not write it before'.
"He was able to take a printout of the name home and within a short space of time write his daughter short letters.
"It can be difficult to recruit people to basic skills training.
"They may be embarrassed or not like admitting to having a difficulty."
Now the union has won a second tranche of ULF money - pound;80,000 - to promote basic and key skills. It has also won a NIACE award for promoting lifelong learning in the workplace.