You are here

  1. Home
  2. Lifelong learning award for union rep

Lifelong learning award for union rep

John McAlinden and First Minister of Scotland Humza Yousaf

The Scottish Trades Union Congress has given their 'Helen Dowie Award for Lifelong Learning' to John McAlinden of the Communication Workers Union.

The annual award, presented by First Minister Humza Yousaf at the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) annual congress in Dundee this week, celebrates the achievements of Scotland’s trade union representatives, promoting lifelong learning and skills development within workplaces and across the trade union movement.

In a rapidly changing technological environment, workforce development and ultimately job security relies on regular upskilling, particularly for communication workers.

John worked hard to ensure delivery of the programme continued throughout the COVID19 pandemic and further develops new models of delivery as workers and learning providers continue to adapt to new ways of learning and studying. He is well equipped to respond to the changing needs and demands of Communication Workers Union (CWU) members in developing their workplace and career skills.

Sponsored by The Open University in Scotland, the award encapsulates an approach which believes that shopfloor, worker-led learning, delivered collectively, is a vital tool in delivering the secure highly skilled workplaces of the future. 

The Open University in Scotland offers higher education opportunities in the workplace to trade union members across Scotland, through union partnerships.

STUC General Secretary Roz Foyer said: 
“I congratulate John and his union the Communication Workers Union for showing leadership in the face of a fast-changing technological landscape. Whether through the promotion of industry recognised qualifications or through broader education and training initiatives, he has made a fantastic contribution to supporting the aspirations and development for those wishing to achieve new goals. We are very proud of him."

John McAlinden said:  
“It’s a privilege to work beside other Union Learning Representatives to deliver union-led learning in workplaces. I didn’t get here on my own, I have a great team of reps around me with colleagues that are really determined to develop their workplace skills. Learning is at the heart of everything we do.” 

Susan Stewart, Director of The Open University in Scotland, said: 
“In a changing world of work, access to learning and skills development has never been more important. The Open University in Scotland greatly values our partnership with unions and employers across Scotland, as around three quarters of our students are working while they study. 

"We are pleased to sponsor the award and absolutely delighted for John to receive it who has previously studied one of our Microcredential courses too - congratulations!”

I think John's very deserving of being the recipient of this award, because for so many years he's dedicated himself and committed himself to being a very strong union activist within the workplace, and has a very keen sense of learning and providing others with opportunities and developments.

We use a number of different ways to get out and speak to workers throughout the workplace.

We have desk-based people, engineers in the field. We use social media, email, text messages, WhatsApp groups, word of mouth, and sometimes small events in key locations, where it just generates that conversation and then comes one-to-one contact to say I'd like to do this.

It could be a structured course, or you know, you then suddenly find there's a pocket of people that are interested in the subject.

As we send out emails, one of the things that we commonly do is the regular intake for The Open University's microcredentials, and it generates quite a lot of interest.

There's many different subjects that you can do over a 3-month period, to rapidly gain some some skills, and we're finding over the years it's becoming more and more popular.

We build then little groups where people can then support each other through that structure, and we've been finding it's a key way of you start and learn a subject and then you can use The Open University to develop further and wider.

So I've done one myself. I've done the cyber security, and it was short, it was intense, but I got everything I needed to progress then on to get my certification that was going to be industry recognised.

Union Learning is very important, because get funding to our Union to get courses run, because a lot of members wouldn't be going courses otherwise.

It’s building that close-nit community where we would buddy people up in courses, and get the feedback from previous courses, and then go back and have a look at it and say, what is working, what's not?

So, during COVID we moved everything online.We lost our buddy system with people in the classroom, so we built WhatsApp groups.

And the amount of activity that's in there, you know, I'm stuck can anyone help me with that, here's a phone number, can someone check this, and it was just that community-led.

That workplace development is that they all got together and said I'm going to help each other out.

I think John deserves the award because he's basically been an inspirational for union learning representatives, and built confidence for learners to go into courses that they wouldn’t otherwise do.

A lot of things are changing, we're seeing jobs being offshore we're seeing complex roles change, AI is coming forward.

There's transformation, there's different efficiencies, so Union Workforce Development is important, especially in the Telecom sector.

I think we've seen people flourish in a way that they don't in the workplace, because they have the confidence and the encouragement from someone like John in that role, to believe in themselves that they could be more than just doing their day-to-day role.

19 April 2024


The Open University's Professor Mahesh Anand standing in front of a Moon image - photo by Mark Bolam.

OU to host European Lunar Symposium 2024

The European Lunar Symposium will be held in Scotland for the first time and is being hosted by The Open University in Scotland.

14th May 2024
John McAlinden and First Minister of Scotland Humza Yousaf

Lifelong learning award for union rep

The First Minister of Scotland has presented a lifelong learning award sponsored by the OU in Scotland, to John McAlinden of the Communication Workers Union. 

19th April 2024
See all

Media contacts

Media enquiries
OU in Scotland Media Relations
Call 0131 549 7932

OU UK Press Office:
Call 01908 654316

07901 515 891

Visit our OU UK news site


Sign up for our quarterly e-newsletter, Open Outlook. 

Subscribe for Newsletter