This article traces the history of union involvement in learning and skills policy from the neo‐corporatism of the 1960s and 1970s through the voluntarism of the 1980s and 1990s to the present ‘post‐voluntary’ era. It sets out the political background against which the development of union learning representatives can be contextualised. The article outlines the significant capacity building in unions such as union learning representatives under New Labour. This has been seen as contributing to the Government’s skills strategy, particularly in opening learning opportunities to those with few or no qualifications. It suggests, however, that the low level of collective bargaining over learning and skills and continuing employer prerogative over job‐specific training and skill utilisation limits delivering the broad union learning agenda at the workplace. If unions and union learning representatives are to advance this agenda, then this will require increased collective bargaining over training and a greater role for unions in policy development within a new statutory framework.

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