Strengthening Union Training Programs in Australia

Union education and development is critical for union survival and growth. Major advances have been made in union delegate education and development, given the array of challenges facing the union movement. However, there were still significant areas of education and development in which improvements could be made.

In this major report, based on interviews with union educators, delegates, and course participants, Prof David Peetz (Laurie Carmichael Distinguished Research Fellow) and Dr Robyn May (of Griffith University) consider the strengths and limitations of existing union education programmes, and make important recommendations for improving those offerings.

Among the authors’ suggestions are:

  • Choosing delegates for participation in training and education could often be more systematic.
  • Better information systems are needed to systematically track delegate education and development, particularly for evaluating its effects.
  • Unions should avoid looking for the things that were most easily measurable to envision the effects of training.
  • They need to move beyond recruitment and membership growth: even membership growth is not really a proxy for activism.
  • To measure this directly, unions need to make greater use of pre- and post-education surveys that enable before-and-after comparisons to be undertaken, to measure the impact on activism and success, the ultimate aims of these programs.
  • There would be synergies from unions working co-operatively on education and development with other parts of civil society.

An especially important issue is follow-up. There is not adequate attention being paid to follow-up of training as it is not really effective for educators to be the principal actors in follow-up. Yet the demands on organisers’ time were already excessive. They often saw follow-up as an additional impost on their time. In reality, follow-up is central to delegate development, and hence to the emergence of workplace leaders. If it is not done, the effort put into training is wasted, and unions could have better used those resources elsewhere.

Please see the full report, Use it or Lose It: Education and Development of Delegates in Australian Unions, by Prof David Peetz and Dr Robyn May.