Functional capability is a necessity for union growth

Growing your union requires your union’s staff and leadership to have contemporary, functional capabilities and skills — which are increasingly specialised and digital in nature.

Developing these capabilities within your union is a must-have for unions that want to grow and win for their members. Organising, industrial and legal, member support, communications and marketing, campaigning, finance, membership and more.

Increasingly, the capabilities for each of these specialist areas are digital — both basic digital literacy and more specialist and analytical capabilities. This is the case for all staff in your union, not just comms or campaign staff. Digital literacy for your admin and finance team, and for industrial officers, is essential to improving your union’s overall capacity.

A simple place to start is conducting a review of the skills and expertise your union needs. (The Australian Trade Union Institute can assist with a review, as well as developing a personalised training and development plan for your union.)

Continuing education, training and development of your union’s staff is vital for your union to implement a growth plan.

As I wrote in my article about creating a union blueprint for growth, “you can’t effectively act if your union doesn’t have the right functional strengths, skills and capabilities within your union’s staff or leadership.”

The vital functional union capacities have rapidly changed because of the pandemic — having digital capabilities is now absolutely crucial, for example. As a union leader, you should be looking at what skills your staff, organisers, industrial officers, etc, need in the short-term but also for the next three to five years.

For example, as the economy has undertaken a massive digital shift, it is vital that organisers, communications staff and industrial officers all know how to use basic digital tools like Zoom, Teams, Office, Slack and so on. Similarly, many unions have adopted the new IMIS membership system — which will require staff to know how to use that tool effectively, as well as how to create and understand the various reports that IMIS (or any modern membership CRM) can generate.

Basic digital literacy is now a key “tool of the trade” for all union staff and union leaders, regardless of what your function is in the union. Those basic digital tools like Zoom, Teams, etc are all “force-multipliers” for your union. Ensuring all of your staff are familiar with how to use Office, Excel, Word, Teams etc is a “must”. This is before you even start to look at valuable but optional tools that could assist organising and growth, like WhatsApp, Signal, or digital analytics tools.

It is therefore crucial to ensure that your invests in the skills and capabilities of your staff. This should be championed in your union by a senior elected leader, with a specific budget and milestones to ensure that your union’s staff are gaining and most importantly, using their new skills.

This is equally as true for organising and growth as it is for ensuring that your industrial staff are up to date on the new IR laws arising from the Secure Jobs, Better Pay reforms.

Remember: courses and training are important for learning new skills, but vital learning comes from doing. There is no point in investing in new skills for your staff if they don’t use them or practice them. Training and capacity-building for staff is not a set-and-forget. It is crucial that when staff do up-skill, leads, managers and the union’s leadership are aware of those new capabilities and encourage the use of them.

Finally, don’t try to tackle too many skill gaps at once.

This risks reducing focus for your staff and for trainers. A better approach is to take each function you want to improve (e.g. digital literacy, or using the new IR laws) in turn and isolate a set of capabilities that directly link it to growth, or to another key priority of your union.

It’s then a matter of practicing, repeating, and role modelling the new skills — as well as touching base regularly with the trainers at the ATUI so they can assist in reinforcing those skills.

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