The empowerment and upliftment of workers are two fundamental benefits associated with worker education.
Added to this is the creation of an awareness and consciousness among workers of developments which impact on their lives, be it of a social, economic or political nature.
Trade unions are expected to hold a vested interest in the education of workers. They have a responsibility to ensure that there is awareness among workers of their human and trade union rights, the required work place skills, access to training and the advancement of the theoretical and ideological perspectives of workers.
Starting with human and trade union rights education, the aim should be to empower the average worker of his or her rights for the purpose of safeguarding them against exploitation and discrimination.
With respect to the issue of representation, the focus ought to be on empowering practising trade unionists, starting from the level of the shop steward, with the knowledge and skills required, in order to be adequately prepared to effectively represent and defend workers.
With exposure to knowledge and information, it is expected that practising trade unionists will be better informed and positioned to assist in advancing the causes and agenda of labour.
Placing emphasis on the training of workers ought to remain of prime importance to trade unionists, for the simple reason that the enhancement of work place skills is critical to the improvement of productivity.
It is expected that trade union leaders are conscious of the fact that the advancement of workers’ skills have a twofold benefit, for apart from improving overall individual and collective productivity, it can lend to the promotion of the individual within the organization, and open avenues for advancement in several other spheres of life.
The promotion of theoretical and ideological perspectives among workers has a significant value, in that it can broaden the understanding of workers of historical developments, and help to influence and shape their thinking of expectations and of what is required going forward.
If we were to carefully examine the benefits to be derived from worker education, it would become apparent that employers should have more than just a passing interest in it. The point has already been established that one of the main outcomes of worker education is that of enhancing the productivity of workers. Employers should be mindful of the fact that productivity is fundamental to the advancement of business, whether it be in the realm of production, sales or service.
Worker education is something that ought not to be taken for granted or limited to advancement in the level of education attained for the purpose of earning higher salaries and job promotion. There ought to be an understanding that the value of worker education lies beyond the realm of knowledge, and that it extends to address the attitudes and practices of workers. Workers are inclined to use the knowledge attained through the medium of training, to develop positive work practices and to learn and understand procedures and processes to be followed.
In addition to these, there is the added benefit of equipping employers with varied knowledge, enhanced skills and competencies which can lend to them being able to undertake different tasks within the organization or enterprise. This gives effect to the notion of job rotation, which should be welcomed by both employer and employee.
Employers ought to recognize that they have a role to play in facilitating worker education. The institutionalization of an employee job orientation programme should form part of the job training programme within both public and private sector organizations. Continuous on the job training should also be a feature of all workplaces.
All organizations and enterprises would also do well to commit to having an ongoing apprenticeship programme as part of their workplace training programme.
(Dennis DePeiza is a labour management consultant with Regional Management Services Inc.Send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org)