South Yorkshire jobs plan depends on Union Learning Fund – Dan Jarvis

WE are at a crossroads in terms of the future of the world of work.

Funding has been secured for the Union Learning Fund in South Yorkshire.
Funding has been secured for the Union Learning Fund in South Yorkshire.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that over two million jobs could be lost as a result of Covid, with the pandemic having a profound impact on the nature of work, how workplaces operate, and even whether certain jobs will exist.

Although Covid is accelerating the transformation, this is a symptom of a much wider change in the workplace – the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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There are some who look at this future fearfully, or with a fatalism that this will mean the end of work as we know it – a dystopian future straight out of science fiction.

Dan Jarvis is mayor of Sheffield City Region and Labour MP for Barnsley Central.

But there’s no need to approach the changing world of work with trepidation.

There will always be a place for good quality jobs – provided that governments, businesses, trade unions and workers rise to the challenges that are now before us.

The crucial task we must face is ensuring that our workers 
have the skills they need to adapt to the ever-changing world of work.

In part, that starts with the next generation of workers, by creating the high-skilled apprenticeships and training opportunities for school leavers as they enter Further and Higher Education.

That’s what we are doing in South Yorkshire Local Labour leaders and I are using our South Yorkshire Renewal Fund and the Renewal Action Plan to support the creation of thousands of apprenticeships, to give the next generation the skills and opportunities they need to face the world of work with confidence.

But what about those workers who are already in the world of work? One of the most successful vehicles for providing this access to lifelong learning is the Union Learning Fund (ULF).

Established in 1998, the ULF supported 44,000 learning reps across a wide variety of sectors; including around 700 reps here in South Yorkshire.

Successive studies have shown that the ULF is particularly effective at reaching workers who would otherwise have not engaged in learning and providing them with the basic skills they need to succeed at work.

It also has an enviable track record at supporting workers to progress into apprenticeships and higher-level learning; and supporting employers in filling skills gaps within their workforces and organisations. Around 200,000 workers every year are supported into learning by the ULF.

By any metric, and as successive government evaluations have shown, the ULF works. It is a practical demonstration of the trade union movement at its best – supporting its members and building astronger economy.

It’s no wonder then that the Tories have taken the spiteful and unnecessary decision to cut the funding for this vital project and bundle everything into a National Skills Fund.

On a practical level, this would have meant the closure of 12 Union Learning Centres in South Yorkshire; hundreds of dedicated reps put out of work or redeployed; and thousands of workers missing out on vital opportunities to upskill.

The Tories talk a great deal about levelling up the country and tackling the systemic regional inequality that has held the North and the whole country back for far too long.

But time and again their actions fall far short. Their politically motivated decision to cut the ULF is a further demonstration that they are merely paying lip service to the idea of levelling up our communities.

I wasn’t prepared to sit by and let this economic, political and social vandalism happen on my watch.

That’s why, in partnership with the Yorkshire and Humber Trades Union Congress, the Sheffield City Region Skills Board agreed to provide the funding necessary to continue the ULF in South Yorkshire over the next two years.

This will mean that – working with experienced and committed ULF reps – workers in South Yorkshire will continue to be able to access the benefits of lifelong learning and the chance to upskill throughout their working life.

I am hugely proud – as a Labour mayor and proud trade unionist – to be stepping up where the Tories have failed and continuing to provide this life-changing service for the workers and communities that I represent.

That’s just one example of the difference it makes having Labour in power at a local and regional level.

Dan Jarvis is mayor of Sheffield City Region and Labour MP for Barnsley Central.

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