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Trade union staff turn to teaching

Health, safety and equality top agenda as union activists train their colleagues.

A COLLEGE has trained more than 5,000 union activists in record time by encouraging the members to teach each other.

More than 30 activists at the Communication Workers Union have picked up qualifications ranging from full PGCEs to City and Guilds teaching certificates in order to train their colleagues in health and safety and equalities issues.

It was the initiative of Solihull College, home of the country's largest trade union studies department, which took over most of the union's training four years ago.

Most similar training contracts are divided among several colleges in different regions. With just one institution responsible for a large, nationwide programme, the college decided to use the CWU's own staff to teach some of the courses.

The trade union representatives also have specialist knowledge of CWU procedures and they work for the Royal Mail or British Telecom so they know all about the employers as well.

Julie Matthews, head of the college's school of professional, management and trade union studies, said: "We wouldn't have been able to deliver the programme otherwise. The advantage is that CWU have a specific programme in mind. They can have full input into what is taught and standardise it for every single rep. It's the same training whether it's being held in Newcastle or their own centre at Alvescot in Oxfordshire."

Most of the CWU training is in health and safety as well as their compulsory course on equality. But there are also courses for shop stewards on how to negotiate the best deal for members, leadership courses for senior activists and specialist courses on combating right-wing extremists.

Qualifica-tions range from level 1 to access to higher education.

The activists who have trained as teachers also attend an annual development week to update skills and keep on top of relevant issues. They teach part-time while taking unpaid leave from their regular jobs, as employees of Solihull College.

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