PCS Academy: Educating and supporting reps key to building our union

PCS is reviewing how it trains reps and members in the skills they need for their union roles.

As part of the union’s wider Strategic Review, we decided to create a ‘PCS Academy’ that would encompass our trade union education for new and existing reps, under the umbrella of the Organising department.

PCS Education Officer Keith Johnston gives Activate an update, and branches are asked to respond to the questions given at the end of the article.

The number of reps PCS has trained has gone up. PCS regions ran over 100 courses, with over 1,000 attendees, in 2017 – the highest figure since 2012. This is hugely encouraging, and shows a thirst for knowledge about getting involved.

However there’s a real need to change how we educate members and reps about trade unionism.

Widening access
Surveys and reviews tell us that a lot of people struggled with the format of the three and five-day PCS and TUC courses held in the past. Whilst we are fully committed to the idea that trade unionists learn from each other best in ‘discussion’ settings, the demands of home, work, travel, restrictions on facilities time and other factors mean getting away for an extended course can be problematic. 

We are therefore developing training provision with a wider range of formats – one day, half day and shorter courses, in-branch or workplace workshops, webinars and online training – to supplement our multi-day courses.

How we look
Another important consideration is the need to change the ‘look’ of our union.

Despite long-held aspirations to ensure our representational structures (branch, group, NEC etc) more accurately reflect the make-up of our diverse membership, we still have a challenge in recruiting and retaining proportionate numbers of women, black, disabled and LGBT reps. By way of example, 60% of PCS’s membership is made up of women, whilst only 40% of our reps are female.

Caring responsibilities or working compressed or part-time hours, for example, can disproportionately impact on some groups of would-be reps.  

Getting keen members trained and then quickly involved in union activities is key to retaining reps’ commitment.  But we know the answer is not one-size-fits-all.  For example, online training can present a barrier for some people whose learning preferences or abilities may favour ‘classroom’ delivery.

New approaches
PCS is now investing in developing new modes of training, under the umbrella name of the ‘PCS Academy’.

Some of this will be about utilising newer technologies so that you can, for instance, participate in a webinar (a kind of online classroom) from your phone. It will also be about a more flexible face-to-face offering, for example we’re training some PCS staff to take part in delivering ‘bite-sized’ training in branches.  

Surveys show that BECs are very interested in having regular sessions for reps on subjects like recruiting new members, local campaigning, or mentoring reps.

We need to hear from you!
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, PCS is reviewing the content of our education.

In recent decades trade union training in the UK has changed little. There has been a big emphasis on developing skills for ‘casework’ or ‘representation’, but less on building collective strength, motivating others, and building a union ‘feeling’ in the workplace. That is the bigger task ahead of us.

The union movement is generally agreed that rebuilding confidence in our capacity to achieve collective wins is vital. Educating a new generation of reps (and supporting and refreshing the training of existing reps!) in new, exciting ways of organising workers is absolutely central to how we build as a union.  

Get involved – email us:
It would be very useful to get feedback from branches to assist with the organising department’s planning around the Academy.

Please email organising@pcs.org.uk, writing ‘PCS Academy’ in the subject line, and answering the following 2 questions:

1. What subjects would your branch like to see offered as workplace-based bite-sized training for reps and advocates?
2. Apart from these workshops, is there anything else specific you would like to see the Academy offer to branches?

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