'2020 Vision of a Union – Transforming challenges into opportunities for 21st Century Unions’

On Friday 8th November 2019 at the National Education Union HQ, Hamilton House, London we held a round table event for union employees responsible for strategy, membership, engagement or marketing.

Our guest facilitator Clare Coatman, Senior Campaigner from the TUC, discussed how to transform 21st century challenges into opportunities, with a focus on the expectations of the next generation. Sharing the results of a 3 year programme* of research and innovation she explored the key challenges for Unions including:

  • 50% of reps will retire in the next 10-15 years so mobilising and mentoring younger members towards taking up the role is becoming urgent.
  • Retail, hospitality and social care are the key territories of younger workers and there are particular challenges for unions to connect in these spaces.
  • There is not always a clear point of qualification or accreditation to acquire members.
  • Building relationships to ensure quality responses is a challenge.

As part of the TUCs research they met 100 young workers in the private sector, face to face, used WhatsApp and online to survey them. The results of that research were broad themes that resonate in the public sector and internationally.

In summary it highlighted 4 barriers for young people becoming members of a union:

  1. Low expectations of the workplace - young workers expect less and come from austerity backgrounds.
  2. Low levels of trust among the group. They don’t chat to colleagues for fear of being double crossed.
  3. Futility - where they’ve tried to change things, they’ve done it alone and it’s not worked.
  4. Perceptions and understanding of trade unions is very low. Knowledge is gained from family members or the media. They perceive it’s for public not private sector, around careers, not a job, for older not younger, bureaucratic, hierarchical and not representative of society.

The key challenge then is how can we raise expectations, increase trust and increase understanding of relevance.

Many ideas were discussed by the group including:

  • The level of digital expectation within this demographic including having online joining processes and self service to update their details etc online. This is at odds with many unions culture, processes and manual ways of doing.
  • Young workers want to talk about issues that affect them in the language they speak and in the places they frequent (online).
  • The audience identify with a certain ‘look and feel’ of materials - your design needs to be clean, modern and fresh.
  • It is a threat to not provide a comparable digital experience, so as not to disappoint.
  • More so, it’s an opportunity to work at scale, to augment traditional organising.

Check out our latest innovation for the Union sector – a member engagement mobile app for the RMT. We’ll be releasing more content on this over the next few months so please let us know if you’d like to receive it, or follow us on social media.