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Unions 21
| Blog post

We’ve trained over 100 trade union staff in AI fundamentals. Here’s 5 quotes that sum up their views

By Nick Scott, Senior Associate, Unions 21 | 5 min

Since January, I’ve been working at Unions 21 on a project to bring focus to the potential opportunities and challenges of AI for unions.

The first step was the development of the AI for Unions community. We now have around 400 members in the community, representing over 100 different unions and trade union centres from 25 countries across all aspects of trade union activity.

The next step has been the launch of our first training programme – “AI Fundamentals for Union Staff”. We’ve now held two workshops, with over 100 union staff taking part where they’ve learned about the history and relevance of AI to their work and to unions, engaged in practical exercises to use AI for themselves, and focused on how to use AI in an ethical and responsible way.

Alongside a lot of practical learning and hands-on exercises, some of the workshop sessions ask participants to reflect in various ways on AI and its potential impact on their roles. The reflections offer a powerful view into what they’re thinking. So much so, that we felt we had to share!

"My challenge is too many tasks, many of them dull and administrative. There’s not enough time for more meaningful work."

A starting point for most of the union staff participating in the training is hope: they have heard the hype and they want to believe that AI will help them save time and do better work. 

They want to hear about automating repetitive and boring tasks, they want to understand if it can solve the information overload they face, they want to streamline processes and make them simpler. 

The objective is clear: they’re looking for a way to focus on more meaningful, creative, and strategic tasks – the ones that require human interaction and critical thinking.

“I found it difficult to be creative with prompts and think outside of the box (though I am sure that will come with practice!)”

Luckily, one of the key goals of the training sessions (and the follow-up online activities after the session) is practical learning on how to use generative tools to tackle common tasks – in particular, experimenting with prompts for AI assistants like ChatGPT, CoPilot, Gemini or Claude.

Prompting AI may sound easy, but it can be surprisingly complex. Quite a few of the people trained talked about their challenges in writing effective prompts to get the desired output. Finding the right language, being specific and clear enough to generate meaningful responses was a common struggle. They were shown some frameworks and tips for prompting AI that helped them, even within the session, improve the quality of responses. A role play on prompting was particularly useful: “I liked the really useful practical example in the role play - understanding the parameters of a request was super helpful."

This hands-on experience was one of the things most commented on in feedback: union staff saw how actually using AI is important to overcome fear, build confidence, and better understand its potential. Doing it well needs practice – testing, evaluating, improving. 

“In ten years, I hope AI can improve communication between the very top and the grassroots of the organisation”

The session also looks at some of the bigger picture potential of AI, including reviewing case studies of where unions have used it for organising, member communications, and learning. The union staff who participated often saw its potential for transformation: they hoped that AI could help unions improve engagement with members – delivering personalised communications and creating new routes to collect feedback. 

They could also see the potential for them as staff: many hoped that AI will empower union staff, by providing them with new tools and skills. They saw AI as an opportunity for personal and professional growth, helping them to take on more strategic and creative roles.

One union staff member said: “It was great to talk about the potential of AI for our work but also how important it is for unions to have a grasp of AI for our members & their future."

“It is very difficult to fully trust AI as it is a tool created by capital.”

But hopes of the union staff who came along to our training were tempered by fears. In common with workers in all industries, ethical considerations, including the potential for AI to perpetuate existing biases and create ethical dilemmas, were frequently mentioned by union staff. 

Our learners were also concerned about impacts on job markets, privacy, security, and more. Underneath this is a general fear that AI – and perhaps the big tech companies behind AI – doesn’t share the same values as us. And this is particularly important in the world of trade unions. 

The training Unions21 offers – the only one AI training focused specifically on trade union staff – was as much about navigating the cons as the pros of AI for this particular sector. Because ethics, job market changes, and socio-economic implications of widespread adoption of AI are massive concerns for people working to build the power of labour.

“I really enjoyed this session… AI is mind blowing and scary - but we need to know in order to develop”

Overall, there was a clear focus from the people present – who ranged from tech novices to people who have been experimenting with AI already.

The union staff knew AI was here, and it will affect both the workers their unions represent – but also the unions they work for. Their comments show deep interest what unions might look like as proactive, AI-empowered organisations. There was real interest in how AI can be part of the toolkit to effectively serve their members and push forward the labour movement in the digital age.

Next AI fundamentals for union staff training: 15 May

If you want to join the union staff who have participated in training so far, you can! The next session is due to take place on 15 May. Find out more here

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