Danny Davis

Queueing up to learn

When Unite rep Danny Davis introduced learning apprenticeships for colleagues at Aviva, a massive 1,200 people enrolled on the fully funded courses

Wow Danny, that’s an incredible achievement. How did you come up with the idea of apprenticeships?

In 2008, I stepped down from my day-to-day role at Aviva and took on a new role, supporting union members who work for the company. I had been a union rep since my 20s (I’m now 63!) and jumped at the chance to take on a role where I could make a difference to staff. A couple of years into the job, I attended a meeting at Unite to find out about the union’s learning and development work, and found out about the fully funded apprenticeship scheme.

I was convinced that giving people the chance to secure bang up-to-date qualifications would boost staff morale, which was particularly low following the recession. Unite’s experiences with other employers also showed that the scheme would improve productivity, increase retention and reduce absenteeism. I presented the idea to senior managers – including the fact the apprenticeships were government funded and wouldn’t cost them anything – but they weren’t convinced.

Before I could push the idea any further, we were hit with a company-wide restructure. In 2014, after further job losses, I took the idea back to the top table again and finally got an agreement.

What was the response like from staff?

The reaction was incredible: about 150 people out of 450 signed up to our pilot project in Stretford. Management then agreed we could roll out the initiative to our Sheffield office which employs about 1,400 people.

Before launching, we aimed to get 10% of staff signed up to courses, but across Stretford and Sheffield combined, this figured rocketed up to 35%. We had people queuing up to sign onto the apprenticeships. Speaking to training providers, this was previously unheard of.

Some staff told us they were previously thinking about leaving Aviva but once they heard about the apprenticeships they changed their minds and decided to stay. Since then, we’ve rolled out the initiative in Bristol, Leeds, Norwich and York, and in total 1,200 people have enrolled onto courses.