Helping my colleagues and seizing learning opportunities

Home Office rep Nick Hobbs has been heavily influenced in his ULR role by his own journey into higher education, as a mature student.

He signed up to PCS when he first joined the civil service in 2001, and took over as the branch’s sole ULR in September 2017. Nick – who’s also on the BEC – started out in the branch by doing basic activities like leafleting, speaking to members and taking part in protests.

He told Activate he “jumped” at the ULR job when it came up: “I love learning and I feel education is a pathway to a better career, opportunities to meet new people, and to develop oneself academically, socially and culturally”.

Where do you work and what is your PCS branch?
I’m a caseworker for the Home Office, in the European Department, and our PCS branch is Home Office Merseyside.

Why did you become a ULR?
I left school aged 16 with a handful of ‘poor’ GCSEs. It wasn’t until adulthood that I really developed the taste for learning so I applied to the University of Liverpool’s higher education access programme. It was a one-year intense learning programme, designed as a pathway to university. I went on to do a degree in International Politics and Policy, and have now returned to UoL to complete a Masters in International Relations and Security. I love learning and I feel education is a pathway to a better career, opportunities to meet new people, and to develop oneself academically, socially and culturally. 

Whilst at university I co-founded a society for ‘mature’ students (someone aged 21 or over at the start of their degree) and I saw the benefits of bringing like-minded learners together. This society is still running today.

I’ve always supported the trade union movement and I wanted to play some part in our local branch. Initially I decided to volunteer and see where it took me but when the opportunity to do the ULR role came up I jumped at it. I love meeting fellow ULRs who share a passion for learning. I love helping my colleagues and fellow PCS members seize learning opportunities. I love hearing the positive feedback from the courses they complete.

It’s an enjoyable role and I’m pleased that it’s mine.

What are the main duties/aims that come with being a ULR?

  • Promoting the value of learning
  • Supporting learners
  • Arranging learning/training
  • Supporting workplace learning centres to embed learning in the workplace
  • Analysing learning or training needs
  • Arranging and supporting learning and training
  • Consulting the employer about carrying out such activities
  • Preparing to carry out the above activities
  • Assisting apprentices

What initiatives have you and other ULRs been doing in your branch and/or workplace?
New Rep Guide:
I created a ‘New Rep Guide’ intended mainly to be used to train and develop new reps but I often refer to it to check things. It contains info regarding TU legislation, contacts, PCS structure, available courses etc. It also includes a development programme to help new reps reach their full potential, which in turn supports the local branch and members – and PCS as a whole – by having effective, professional reps.
Functional Skills:
We have around 25 apprentices in our branch. A small number of these needed development in English and Maths, so I created a questionnaire to assess their development needs. I then spoke to three apprentices who needed extra support. I contacted various local providers and eventually found one (Liverpool City College) that was suitable for their learning needs and work schedules. I arranged for two apprentices to complete an assessment and they’re now enrolled on a Maths course. The third managed to secure a place at Southport College which she arranged this herself after I sent her a list of potential places. For all three I negotiated time off work to attend college. This formed part of their 20% learning threshold.
Continuing Professional Development courses:
I have been promoting various learning opportunities – the most successful project has been the Level 2 accredited CPD (Continuing Professional Development) courses provided in conjunction with PCS, the Fire Brigades Union and Leeds College, with 30 members in our branch enrolled on a range of courses. These include Team Leading, Awareness of Mental Health Problems, Equality and Diversity, Understanding Autism, Nutrition and Health, Common Health Conditions, Information, Advice and Guidance, Principles of Dementia Care, Working with Individuals with Learning Disabilities and the IT qualification ECDL Extra.
In future I intend to hold regular ‘surgeries’ where members can come and chat about learning and development.

Have you had any PCS training for ULRs?
Yes, I’ve completed the: 3-day TU reps course; 3-day ULR course; 1-day ULR learning forum, and 3-hour TRAX training (IT system for recording learning data and stats).
Key benefits of the courses are learning the legal aspect of being a ULR and what our rights and responsibilities are. It has also been a great networking opportunity to meet full time officers, representatives from Union Learn, and fellow ULRs. We shared ideas and experiences.

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