Workplace Learning Advocates

Workplace Learning Advocates (WLAs) are employees in non-unionised companies who are trained to support and encourage formal and informal learning in the workplace.

The Career Review model was piloted by a group of WLAs in five companies across England.

Jane’s story

Jane* had suffered a major fracture to her leg about 10 years ago. She has arthritis of the ankle joint. Eager to maintain a reasonable level of health and fitness, she is keen to take up any support available:

If it’s offered to me I will try and take it up. I want to work.

After attending only a couple of sessions, the client is experiencing health benefits. She is following the advice of specialists who have delivered the sessions and is employing different exercises and techniques:

I feel that I am able to be more mobile and flexible and I have a better knowledge of my condition. This in turn has given me more confidence in my performance at work; this has also been transferred to family life. What is really important is that I can recognise when I need support and that I am not letting the company down if I ask for it. They have been very supportive.

* This employee’s name has been changed

What employers thought

“The project has enabled us to engage more with our staff… and gave us data on the demography of our staff. We have always taken pride in the fact that we look after our staff. This project has prompted us to ask the staff what their needs are and tailor the activities accordingly.”

“It’s given us focus to address how we can support an older workforce. We’ve had staff who’ve been with us for a long time… so we must be doing something right. But we want to make sure that continues. Older people bring so many benefits to an organisation. It’s the experience. There’s just so much they bring. But if they don’t feel valued or supported then we’ll lose them.”

“It allowed companies to explore other issues… They set off just thinking they’d be talking to people who were a bit older in the workplace and needed support but it’s spun off into all kinds of other areas. Maybe we need to think about what happens if there’s a redundancy, maybe we need to think about having a health and wellbeing policy, maybe we need to start analysing our workforce.”


Unionlearn is the learning and skills organisation of the TUC. It works to assist unions in the delivery of learning opportunities for their members.

Unionlearn piloted the Career Review project with 15 unions, enabling and supporting 45 Union Learning Reps (ULRs) to provide reviews to 770 workers.

ULRs used their basic skills of career guidance work, listening, exploring, identifying and presenting transferable skills and knowledge, helping people to develop career management skills, action planning and signposting.

Career Reviews proved to be natural extension of the unique role of the ULR, as a trusted intermediary with whom fellow workers could be open and gain confidence and motivation to progress at work and in their lives.

Union Learning Reps on Career ReviewsPlay

Hazel’s story

Hazel balances her job as a phlebotomist for the South Tyneside Foundation Trust with her role of Project Worker for the UNISON Bridges to Learning project. In addition to her work commitments Hazel balances her duties as a daughter, mother and grandmother alongside her union roles of Union Learning Representative and Branch Chair.

Hazel attended one of the Career Review project workshops delivered by Unionlearn. During the discussion Hazel highlighted that she had been previously been offered training and development opportunities including NVQ Level 4 Information, Advice and Guidance and a PTLLS course but hadn’t followed up these opportunities. Hazel explained that she had been feeling “too old” to undertake new training.

The next time Hazel met with her ULR, things had really changed for her. The courses that she had intended to pursue had been put on hold as, shortly after her first review, she received an email entitled ‘Leadership and Management Level 5’. Hazel explained that before her involvement in the Career Review project she would have immediately deleted the email but discussing her plans for the future had given her the added confidence she needed.

If it hadn’t been for the Career Review project, I wouldn’t have even opened the email… if it hadn’t been for the project I would not have spent time reviewing and planning for my future career.