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Trade union learning project leads to degree of success

Brian Ronald

Brian Ronald, an engineering inspector and lead union learning representative with Unite the Union, was among 560 students who had their degrees conferred at Saturday’s (29 October) Open University (OU) degree ceremony at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall.

The 42 year old (pictured left), who lives in East Kilbride and works for Rolls-Royce, completed his Bachelor of Science (BSc) Open degree through a unique partnership between Unite the Union, Rolls-Royce and The OU.

The project, which has received support from Scottish Union Learning and the Scottish Funding Council, provides opportunities for engineering workers to study OU courses for professional and personal development.

Brian, as the lead union learning representative in his workplace, is heavily involved in running the project, as well as participating himself. Tailored learning plans are created for each student and study fits flexibly around shift patterns with tutors visiting the workplace to provide extra support for learners.

Brian Ronald, Bachelor of Science, said:

“I left school and became an apprentice engineer. I got my apprenticeship, so I was basically a tradesman and had the practical experience when I started the theoretical studies which was really quite good.

I’ve found that with a lot of the materials and learning we’ve done, because I’ve been working in an engineering role, I’ve been able to apply things as I go. You can pick something up one week and apply it the next.

“There has been very, very good support – I can’t fault the tutors in any way whatsoever, they have been absolutely brilliant throughout. And we’ve got really good peer groups. People doing the same module are getting together, sitting and looking through their course work together. I feel quite proud when I walk through and see it.”

Pat Rafferty, Scottish Secretary at Unite the Union, said:

“We are extremely proud of Brian’s achievement and grateful to him for his commitment to this learning programme. Not only has he been working hard on his degree, he has also taken on the responsibility of being our lead Union Learning Representative at Rolls-Royce, making sure that around 30 fellow trade unionists a year also benefit from the programme.

“This programme wouldn’t be possible without the commitment of members like Brian, and our strong partnership with Rolls Royce and Scottish Union Learning. Together, we’ve created a model for other employers in Scotland who want to invest in the skills of their workers. We hope they will get on board.”

Susan Stewart, Director of The Open University in Scotland, said:

The students graduating today have worked incredibly hard to achieve their degrees, fitting their learning around the other commitments in their lives, such as work and family.

Brian is a wonderful example of that dedication and commitment and this partnership is an important illustration of how part-time study can make a huge difference for people in work.

Wendy Burton, Director of Scottish Union Learning, said:

“Scottish Union Learning congratulates Brian on this great achievement. It is fitting that Brian is the first in his workplace to complete this advanced degree. While undertaking his studies, Brian has also played a critical role as a Unite Union Learning Rep, driving forward learning opportunities that will support and ultimately transform the lives of his workmates in gaining qualifications that will help them progress, both professionally and personally.

“This is an excellent example of trade union-led learning that demonstrates how unions, working in partnership with Scottish Government and learning providers, can upskill the workforce. Through skills utilisation, workers can potentially receive better pay, develop new transferable skills, and access opportunities for progression, while employers benefit from workers’ existing and new skills to improve business, enhance engagement with workers, increase retention, and meet future skills needs.”

Photo credit: Andrew O'Brien

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