Guest post by Tom Barker, Kent graduate – It’s always better when we’re together

Got a job? Get a Union too!

Getting your first job after university can be an incredibly exciting and turbulent time. Leaving the student comfort zone raises new challenges and starting full time work can be an incredibly tough and lonely period for graduates. There are no tutors, campus advisors (including your lovely employability officers) or Student Union officers to turn to in the employment world. Graduates therefore start their careers in an extremely vulnerable position, making affiliation with a recognised Trade Union (TU) more important than ever.

As well as helping people through challenging circumstances, TUs also present opportunity for those who want to boost their employability skills. I wanted to use this article to reflect on my own experiences as a TU member and show how you too can exploit the numerous opportunities membership presents for giving you the edge over more experienced colleagues/applicants early in your career.

Commitment to professional development

TUs offer extensive training and support which can show your strong commitment to career development. These can vary from advocacy and representation training right through to social media marketing skills. Most importantly, your Union will usually be able to negotiate for you to have sufficient cover at work and paid time off to attend.

Willingness to take on significant responsibilities

If you get more involved with your local TU branch and join its committee you will be able to show leadership skills. Roles range from being the leader of the branch as Secretary to representing the views of other young workers as Young Members’ Officer. These roles also demonstrate that you have a genuine commitment to improving your workplace and the services your organisation provide.

Excellent understanding of managerial practice

The more you get involved with your union the more you will learn about workplace procedure and the makings of a good manager. You will also become more aware of the issues your colleagues face boosting your communication and empathy skills.

Further, if you work for an organisation (like the University of Kent) that has generally excellent relationships with their Trade Unions you will very quickly become a familiar face to senior members of staff. As a Trade Union rep, I have met and negotiated with the Vice Chancellor’s office and the Head of HR. For many it will take many years of career development before experience is gained in such high level negotiations but working as a TU rep enabled me to do this within 16 months.

This shows that, as well as providing workers with essential protection, union membership can offer a fast track to skill development and progression. This is why I firmly believe that joining a recognised TU should be one of the first and most beneficial things you do when starting any job.

Tom Barker is a former University of Kent student, employee and UNISON Branch Secretary. You can follow him on Twitter @thomaswbarker. To find out more information about joining UNISON please email


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