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Second chance - Brian Ronald

Brian’s degree has been gained through a partnership programme between Unite the Union, Rolls-Royce and The OU. Brian is the Lead Union Learning Representative for the programme at his workplace, which has received support from Scottish Union Learning and the Scottish Funding Council..

One of the main reasons I decided to start studying on the programme was that I thought I’d lost the opportunity to be able to do my further education and carry on to degree level. My parents, and my wife’s parents, unfortunately passed away, so the grandparents of the family then needed a lot more help. You’ve got to devote your time to the people that need it. So I actually thought I’d lost my opportunity to carry on studying.

In the meantime – about 10 years ago - I’d taken on the role as the Union Learning Rep (ULR) at Rolls-Royce, which was in East Kilbride at the time. It’s a voluntary role where you try and help people back into education. In the midst of that, we were going to start running this joint-funded OU study programme. I put my name forward and was accepted into the programme by the company. And from there I have managed to work through both my own study and developing the programme. I’m now the Lead ULR for the site and I make sure the programme continues growing. We’ve grown the programme to the point that it has over 32 students on it every year.

So that’s the reason why I decided to do it – I just thought I’d missed an opportunity. And to some degree I wanted to prove myself that I actually had it in me to do it. My brother is nothing less than a genius and I just wanted to see if I had the ability to do it myself, so I decided to push myself through it.

My day-to-day job is as an inspector, maintaining the quality control of components for an aircraft gas turbine engine.

I left school and became an apprentice engineer, where I studied to NC level. Unfortunately because of things at home, I couldn’t continue with the HNC. I got my apprenticeship, so I was basically a tradesman before I started, which I think is quite good for someone going onto the degree. You’ve got the practical experience before you even start the theoretical studies which was really quite good.

Engineering the future was an extremely good way to start the course. In some ways, because I’d been away from studying for so long, it was almost like a refresher - and it was a realisation that I did actually learn something years and years ago. Engineering: mechanics, materials, design is a more in-depth look at engineering, the structures and materials, which was difficult but it was a good course to do and probably one of the most beneficial for us learners embarking on the degree programme with a background in engineering already.

There’s a lot of the materials and learning we’ve done where, because I’ve been working in an engineering role, I’ve been able to apply things as I go. So you can pick something up one week and you’re applying it the next week. I’ve been involved in a project which made the company significant savings, and in a number of the high tech implementation programmes. Basically I advise on them and the implementation of Engineering 4.0 (described as the next industrial revolution, where our use of big data and the internet of things drives all aspects of engineering).

I don’t know what the secret is – perseverance really. Perseverance, a lot of late nights, and just being able to juggle your time. It is do-able.

I have two children. Arran was about one year old and Holly was four when I started the degree. I moved into a new house – there was no internet in the new housing estate – I really didn’t take it on at the best time! But I did manage.

I work round shifts – I’ve had a number of different shifts over the period I’ve worked, a number of different jobs over the time. We did a transition from the East Kilbride site to Inchinnan where I moved into a technical seconded role to support the move and support the business. I’ve had a number of different shift patterns, some have been day shift, others have been day shift / back shift so you just fit the studying in wherever you can. I bought myself a tablet and downloaded all the material and if you’re on a train you just pick up the books and just do it whenever you’ve got that free moment.

We can have tutorials on site, because it is an enhanced learning programme that we have set up, should people need extra support.

There has been very, very good support – I can’t fault the tutors in any way whatsoever, they have been absolutely brilliant throughout.

Basically I’ve got responsibility for the budget. I’ve got to negotiate the budget with the company. The Union offers a matched funding scheme, so it’s the company you’ve got to negotiate that with. I’ve got to manage the entire programme, the responsibility’s with me so technically I manage the whole programme, and the budgetary control as well. So in some ways you could see it as a small business.

The programme itself I have a lot of passion for, and I can see how it benefits other people.

Now we’ve merged with the Inchinnan site I’m looking to grow their programme in the same way as we grew ours, so there is the potential – if I can get funding – to bring it up to about 60 students.

What I say to the students I’m taking on is don’t underestimate the amount of time and commitment you have to have. Going from level 1s, level 2 to level 3 there is a marked increase in the amount of time you have to give to your study and it will get very, very tiring because it’s a six year programme and you can feel like you’re never coming to an end.

To be able to have that perseverance –once you actually do finish – there’s elation, and you can look back and say ‘I was capable of doing that’. You find you are capable of sticking at something and working through it. It is possible!

That project is probably one of my highlights from over the years. But I think the biggest highlight for me is building my team of ULRs who have been nothing but supportive in seeing this programme grow and grow into one of the biggest, and I’d say the best, learning programmes across Scottish union learning.

Pat Rafferty, Scottish Secretary at Unite the Union, said:

“We are extremely proud of Brian’s achievement and grateful to him for his commitment to this learning programme. Not only has he been working hard on his degree, he has also taken on the responsibility of being our lead Union Learning Representative at Rolls-Royce, making sure that around 30 fellow trade unionists a year also benefit from the programme.

 This programme wouldn’t be possible without the commitment of members like Brian, and our strong partnership with Rolls Royce and Scottish Union Learning. Together, we’ve created a model for other employers in Scotland who want to invest in the skills of their workers. We hope they will get on board.”

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