The old adage about catching them young applies just as much to trade unions as to banks. In fact, since the average age of health workers is rising, the battle for younger members is intensifying.

In the past four years Unison has made strides in increasing its appeal to nursing students and now claims to have as many students within its membership as the RCN.

Its success has been based on focusing on issues relevant to student nurses, such as campaigning for the replacement of the bursary with a proper salary, accommodation and professional issues such as supervision and training.

There has also been a concerted attempt to raise Unison's profile within the colleges, which were traditionally seen as RCN-only territory, and to ensure that student nurses rather than a middle-aged branch secretary with no knowledge of nursing now speak to potential recruits.

This is only one way in which Unison has been attempting to jettison its 'beer and sandwiches' image and appeal to the younger market. It has also sponsored rock concerts and started to plug into the potential of the Internet. The latest example is a joint initiative with the National Union of Students to set up a website designed to provide instant online advice on a range of work problems. The troubleatwork website claims it is there for 'people who do not know where to turn when things go pearshaped'and offers advice on subjects as diverse as bullying, maternity rights and gay and lesbian issues.