Friday, 28 November 2008

Edify the labour movement!

[Contribution by Ruud Duvekot] - The world is changing fast. By now, employees and job seekers need to take the initiative and invest in themselves. Designing and - especially - maintaining your own career is more and more important. In short, you have to make sure to take your personal development into your own hands (again) and for this purpose, you can turn to the available institutions for (professional) education. Life long learning is crucial for all of us!
What could be better than for the labour movement to re-assume its traditional role of ‘edifying workers’? This will allow the labour movement to present itself as the organisation that defends the interests of its members and invests in the quality of society.
The target group (union members) and the goal (investing in our most important ‘commodity’: human capital) are clear. The intended results are manifold: strenghtening the competences of individual trade union members, raising the labour movement’s profile, and contributing to a social good. All that is lacking are a plan and funding.
For money, the labour movement could turn to sectoral education funds that provide opportunities, especially through provisions in collective agreements to fund career development. The main thing is to develop a good plan to reach out to the target group and stimulate people to invest in themselves.
So what needs to be done is to reach out to the target group and let people express their education needs. Regarding the first part, much can be won by linking to an initiative of FNV Bondgenoten to train union activists to become workplace career and education advisors.
For union members to express their specific education or career needs is a bit more complicated, though. However, here too an initiative the already exists may provide the solution. In the Netherlands, efforts are made to get a VPL method off the ground. VPL stands for Valuation of Prior Larning; this amounts to making an inventory of all you have ever learned somewhere. The first step consists in identifying your competences. Next, these ‘identified competences’ are used in step 2 to gain recognition for your learning achievements so far. In step 3, you can find out what competences you might want to develop or what you are missing in your personal development. And there you have your personal development plan! In order to obtain VPL - also referred to as the experience certificate - you can turn to many places (professional education institutes, staffing departments, education funds, etcetera).
It would be ideal if the union could help its members invest in themselves. The social context, goal, target group, union activists, intended results, funding and method are available. All that is lacking is to join all this and to make supporting personal development a misssion of the labour movement once again. Perhaps (re) founding the Union Academy might help?

Ruud Duvekot
Researcher, EVC Empowerment Centre

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