It should come as no surprise that trade union research officers work for trade unions. What might surprise you is the range of duties in the role. True, research takes up a large part of it. Trade union research officers collect and analyse information on political, social and economic issues – essentially issues that might affect the trade union, the industry and the workers it represents. This information will inform the progress, activities and development of the trade union.
However, it’s not just the research part that is important. Once the information has been gathered and analysed, it’s up to the research officer to write up, circulate and present it. They might deliver a report to key members of the trade union, or influential people in the industry and media, as well as preparing materials to be distributed to workers and members of the public.
It might be their research work that advises or creates union policy or affects negotiations. Trade union research offers might write key speeches, or press releases, organise events or lobby the government.
This role is a heady mixture of research, writing, networking and campaigning, with a little bit of marketing and PR thrown in. It carries some similarities to what a policy officer does and many trade union (TUs) have positions which combine the two roles.
This is a great role for young people who are passionate about workers’ rights and have a keen interest in politics.
Salary & benefits
The pay isn’t exactly bountiful. The average salary for a research officer ranges between £18,000 to £29,000 depending on location, employer and industry.
Typically, working hours are nine-to-five, Monday to Friday, although some flexibility might be required.
Most job opportunities tend to be found in London, the South East and other restricted locations, but there are some smaller regionally based unions who might contract out work.
As the work is heavily research-based and requires strong analytical and communication skills, this profession tends to be dominated by graduates. All degree disciplines are welcome, but a degree in history, law, economics, politics or sociology might give candidates an edge.
Some might take postgraduate qualifications in areas such as industrial relations, labour law, development studies or research methods and statistics to bolster their skillset.
Work experience is pretty much vital in this area, preferably with a trade union or organisation with a political slant. They’ll be looking for evidence of a commitment to trade unions’ aims, a deep interest in politics and top research skills. Candidates should be able to handle statistical information, produce graphs and tables and be happy to work independently.
This is a pretty niche role and jobs are few and far between, so competition for opportunities is intense. Candidates need to do everything possible to enhance their application, from volunteering to getting involved in trade union or political party work.
Training & progression
Most people train on the job and perhaps take up some Trades Union Congress (TUC) courses. Some unions might have their own training programmes. Career development is often self-motivated, with research officers identifying their key weaknesses and making efforts to improve them.
After starting out as research assistants and progressing to a research officer roles, workers might advance to senior research positions or move into other careers, such as political advice or lobbying, public relations, parliamentary advice or consultancy work. They might even choose to take their research skills further through migrating to academic or private research institutes.