Five Minutes in February With…Mark Fisher

For the remainder of the month, we will run our Five Minutes in February series. The series will focus on the benefits of lifelong learning from the perspective of employers, trade union officials and learners linked to UNISON’s lifelong learning project: Connecting Learners in South West & Central Wales.

We begin with a spotlight on Mark Fisher, UNISON Branch Secretary at Neath Port Talbot Council, and NEC member for Wales:

Name: Mark Fisher

Role: UNISON Branch Chair (Neath Port Talbot Council) and NEC Member for Wales

Why is lifelong learning so important to you?: Until quite recently, I didn’t realise it was! I struggled through school and it was not until a few years ago, it was confirmed I had dyslexia. It was only when I reflected on this question that I became aware that most of my education had come from my trade union. Thinking about it — they threw me a lifeline, because I left school with no qualifications. Since being active in the movement — I have learned new skills — leading a branch, supporting people through difficulties etc. I understand that supporting members involves following lots of procedures — but I know now that there are a lot of underlying skills you don’t realise you have got — like dealing with difficult conversations, influencing people, communicating at different levels. Without the support of UNISON, I would not be able to carry out my role as a seconded officer. It has also given me the confidence to achieve a national role within the union — where I am now involved in making major decision affecting UNISON members across the UK.

Worst learning experience (and why): I hated school… The teachers were frustrated by my lack of progress and attention. There did not seem to be much support for young people who were struggling — in fact they were put to one side on a “naughty table” and forgotten about. Luckily things have changed since…

Best learning experience (and why): I’ve enjoyed most of the trade union courses I have attended. It’s not like school — no tests or exams. There are lots of discussions and everyone gets a chance to join in and have their say.

What advice would you give to someone considering a route back in to learning? It’s easier said than done, I know. But find something you are interested in. Do it when you know you have time to spend on it — otherwise you will struggle to fit it in. Find someone who can support you — a colleague or a Union Learning Rep. I’m about to start an advice and guidance qualification — it will be the first qualification I’ve completed in a while — I’m a bit worried about it, but there are other people I know doing the same course. I hope we will be able to help each other out.

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