Case Study

This is how we do it: Recruiting at the UKAEA

31 August 2021

Two Prospect reps at the UK Atomic Energy Authority, Ed Shelton and Toby James, share the secrets of their successful approaches to recruiting new members into the union.

Ed Shelton

Before coronavirus, all new starters at UKAEA, within their first month, would have a half-day induction course. As part of that, one of the branch committee members would give a 15–20-minute introduction to Prospect’s role on-site and to encourage people to join.

Obviously, when we went into lockdown the on-site inductions stopped but the UKAEA was still recruiting staff.

A few months went past, and we realised that we hadn’t been able to recruit many of these new starters, so we were losing out, relative to the total number of people at the workplace.

To help change this, we persuaded HR to copy in myself and a couple of other branch committee members to the messages informing managers about new starters.

As one of the branch communications officers, I would contact the new starters, usually in their second week, with an email saying hello and giving them links to Prospect, both the e-branch and national website.

Ed Shelton

I would also ask if they would like to have a Teams chat about Prospect for me to answer any questions they have before deciding whether to join. A good proportion of the new starters took me up on that.

If I didn’t get any immediate response, I would then follow-up after about three months. This follow-up would often get more people coming back to me than the original contact.

I found that in some weeks I was having several Teams chats with new starters, and so I soon developed a ‘patter’ that seems to work.

I tell people there are essentially three broad reasons why it’s useful to be a member:

First, the most fundamental one, Prospect is the formally recognised trade union at UKAEA. If they want to have a say in how Prospect is negotiating with management on their behalf, then they need to be a member.

The second is the career insurance aspect. If they do have any problems at work, or just a bad relationship with the line manager, then they’ll need the union’s support. Of course, like any insurance, they can’t join the union after the problem has started.

Third, is talking about the Prospect Plus money saving offers. I point out that’s probably the thing most members make use of on a week-to-week basis.

Of the people that I have a Team chat with, I would say at least half of them subsequently join.

Toby James

I started almost a year ago as part of the graduate intake at UKAEA and so a lot of my recruiting has been among fellow graduates.

For almost all of us, it’s our first job out of university so a lot of them are not aware of why, or if, they should be joining the union. I think these are questions that we should be answering for people at the start of their careers.

If you’re not in the union, you won’t see the benefits; it’s only when you join that you start to see them. I try to explain that to people.

Toby James

Without being cynical, obviously these are difficult economic circumstances in the UK right now. Then, we have the pay pause as well, which has hit all of us in the public sector.

People are asking, what can I do about all this? Well, you join the union. That’s the discussion I have been having.

The Member Recruit Member initiative is good as well. I’ve donated all the money and I’ve been very open with that; I’ve said you can use my reference, but the money will go to charity.

I think a lot of people like the idea of joining the union but don’t feel passionately about it. But, if you say ‘sign up now and the tenner goes to a charity’ then people will think OK, I’ll do it now.

Credit also to Prospect, and our branch, it’s been visible in the workplace and there have been a lot of events that have been well received, like a webinar on stress management. I remember a lot of my colleagues were very impressed with it.

For people who are starting their career wondering if they should join a union, I think putting on these events and seeing all the union emails are positive things that we’re doing to convince them to become members.


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