Lisa Greenfield works with companies like Fox’s Biscuits to help workers in her union – the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) – learn English, maths and basic computer skills. Here’s her story.
I’ve been a member of the BFAWU for 22 years.
One day, I was talking to my branch secretary in the corridor at Gunstones Bakery, where I worked at the time. He was trying to recruit ULRs – Union Learning Reps. He looked at me and says, “You’re gobby, you’ll be good at this”. So I went for it.
I travel all over the country for my union work.
We visit numerous sites, connecting with employers and employees to improve access to learning opportunities. We’ve done a lot of work at the Fox’s biscuit factory in Batley and the Pennine Foods Factory in Sheffield.
Some companies are bought in from the word go.
With some, it’s like pulling teeth – it can take years and years. But I’m very persistent and we usually get there eventually.
With Fox’s, everything clicked into place with the apprenticeship levy
It’s a government scheme to collect money from big businesses to fund apprenticeships. I used it as a selling point: “Look, you’ve got this levy, you’re paying in all these thousands and thousands of pounds, but your staff are not going to be able to use it unless they’re at a certain level of learning.” It worked. They’re giving us lots of support, which means we can offer even more classes to their employers.
Fox’s wants the classes to give their employees the confidence to apply for leadership roles.
At the moment, the company has to recruit externally. There are so many benefits to improving the skills of the people who work for you – productivity goes up, staff morale goes up, you’re more likely to keep people for longer.
We always try to run assessments before we put people on a course.
That way, we won’t start them on something they’ll either fail or get bored on. We normally have 40 hours of guided learning for English and maths, but we’re not going to make somebody wait 40 hours if they’re ready to take an exam. It’s all about understanding how adults learn.
My union has fantastic apps.
We have them on our iPads and it’s a great way to connect with people. If I’m doing an open day, someone will usually say something like, “No, I can’t, I don’t know how to use computers”. That’s a way for me to say, “Well, do you want to learn? I can show you”. They nearly always say yes.
One job of the unions is to keep companies accountable.
But they do so much more. What my union does – helping people to read – it’s the most fantastic thing. We can change someone’s life by helping them to write, or to learn to use a computer. And then – of course – that benefits our society as a whole.