Vicky Nelson has transformed her working life with the help of the retail union Usdaw. A former wages clerk at Tesco in London's Portobello Road, today she has a new role as a roving union learning representative.
Her store has opened a new on-site learning centre. Vicky has been seconded to run the centre and visit other Tesco stores in London to recruit new students. The learning centre has 10 computers and is set to get broadband internet access. It already offers a range of courses in partnership with Lewisham college, including key skills and IT.
It has started running English as a second or other language courses for many different nationalities working in the store, including Spaniards, Filipinos and Bangladeshis.
Vicky says she left school with no qualifications and little self-confidence. Despite attempts to take numeracy and English at college, she continued to struggle. Becoming a shop steward with her union Usdaw two years ago gave her a fresh appetite for learning, she says.
She found training for her new role as a union learning rep boosted her confidence. "Now it's my turn to help open doors for others," she said. One of her challenges is arranging courses to fit around store workers'
So far more than 90 people from 10 Tesco stores have signed up. She said:
"One member of staff was able to find and contact her long-lost brother through the internet as a result.
"Another lady, in her 60s, knew absolutely nothing about computers except how to dust them. I linked my arm with hers and brought her to the centre, and she did a 15-week computer course. "She went on to do spreadsheets and Powerpoint. She's amazing."
Usdaw has been a pioneer in running in-store courses. Nationally, more than 10,000 people have enrolled. "This is about giving busy shop workers the opportunity to learn," says the union's national officer Pauline Foulkes.
"This is an inspiring example of what retail staff returning to education can achieve when companies like Tesco work with Usdaw union learning reps."