Ida started her trade union career as an information officer for the GMB. As an executive policy officer one of the key skills required is good writing, be it reports, briefings, consultation papers or more analytical pieces...
Ida started her trade union (TU) career with the GMB, a general union open to all, with about 600,000 members in the UK across the public, private and manufacturing sectors. She next worked as a research and policy officer for the union, before becoming an executive policy officer.
Within the GMB, researchers mainly work in the national office in London, where there are currently four research officers. Within the nine regional offices there are no specific research roles but some regional staff have a research element to their role.
There is an increasing need to forge links with unions overseas given the globalisation of commerce and the nature of legislation. The GMB, like many other large unions, has an office in Brussels where a dedicated European Research and Policy Officer keeps track of European developments.
Ida was primarily attracted to research because of the sheer variety of work, and her desire to 'make a difference and help protect working people'. She describes the role as fast paced and great for those interested in current affairs. Entrants include graduates with degrees in a variety of subjects, as well as internal candidates moving from an administrative role.
Many people move into TU research because of their interest in politics. There is great opportunity to build close links between other unions, political parties, to meet with ministers and MPs and to lobby parliament.
Researchers rely on a combination of desk-based research and meetings with activists, companies or stakeholders, such as politicians and other unions. How much you get out of the office depends on your officer (senior manager) and the subject you are working on. For example, the campaign against the use of asbestos might involve writing articles for the media, drafting press releases, meeting ministers and MPs and company representatives, as well as talking to the union's members.
Ida is clear that trade union research can have a very real affect on government policies and legislation. For example, trade union research was very important to the development and implementation of the minimum wage and working time legislation.
One of the key skills required is good writing, be it reports, briefings, consultation papers or more analytical pieces. It also helps to be a quick thinker, as you often need to work to tight deadlines. 'You need to become an expert very quickly, coming up with a response on a proposal or reacting quickly to new government initiatives.'
Good all round communication skills are also essential for meetings and presentations. The less enjoyable aspects of the role are few, but include administration and document management. Even recurring tasks, such as the annual conference, tends to have a different focus each year, such is the fast-paced nature of the underlying subject matter.
While Ida has built her career within one union, there is also scope to move between unions, particularly from small to large. Several GMB research officers have gone on to careers in politics, some at ministerial level. This is facilitated by the close links between unions and political parties, the contacts made during lobbying and regular meetings with ministers and MPs when consulting on proposed legislation.
Researchers may also move on to roles in other voluntary organisations, TV/media research or in a central government department. As Ida says, 'There is always a demand for research and an ongoing need for unions to give their view on policies and proposals that affect working people. The beauty of the job is that no two days are the same.'
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