Importance of Formal & Informal Volunteer Skills - Report
10 November 2015 at 11:34 am
Volunteers play an important role across society, yet their contribution to the vitality of businesses and communities is often unrecognised and undervalued, according to new Australian research.
The research findings indicate that volunteers use skills gained through formal and informal vocational education in the public safety sector in other parts of their working life and that greater recognition of this process is warranted.
The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) has released the research report called From volunteering to paid employment: skills transfer in the South Australian Country Fire Service.
It examined key factors in the resourcing and efficacy of training for volunteers within the South Australian Country Fire Service and its wider implications.
Report author, Mark Keough, said that put simply, a common complaint from business and industry was that employees entering the workforce are not “job ready”.
“They often lack the practical skills, maturity and workplace experience to perform well in their roles, leaving employers to fill the gap by providing training either at their own expense or with public funding,” Keough said.
“In contrast, a new employee with previous experience as a volunteer in an emergency services organisation comes into the workplace with an understanding of teamwork, a demonstrated sense of community and responsibility, and an appreciation of the role of organisational culture, thus accelerating their emergence as an asset to their employer.”
The case study of the SA fire service examined key factors in the resourcing and efficacy of training for volunteers. It was undertaken as a joint initiative of Government Skills Australia (GSA), the SA CFS and the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).
The research also revealed that resources for training are limited and therefore focussed on operational skills, with formal recognition of more generic skills such as leadership, management and teamwork not possible.
“There are clear links between public safety programs and other industry qualifications pertinent to, for example, the skills needed in agriculture; food and forestry; mining; public administration and safety industries,” Keough said.
“Recognition systems that support local learning outcomes in semi-formal, peer and informal settings would bring many benefits, in terms of recruitment and retention of volunteers but also in revealing skills such as leadership and management that reside in a local community.”
The findings indicated that volunteers were more strongly aware of the benefits of SA’s Country Fire Service training to the workplace than their employers.
“Their skills acquisition and transfer have multifaceted, multi-directional benefits: volunteers who are drawn from a broad range of industries bring professional skills to the brigade and transfer knowledge among the volunteer cohort; they also take skills imparted during their volunteer experience back to the workplace and to their communities,” Keough said.
“Greater recognition of this process is warranted, especially in order to elucidate the overall gains for both employers and the community from the activities of the SA CFS as a learning organisation.
“While volunteer recruitment and retention are major preoccupations within the Australian volunteer sector, these are not challenges for the SA CFS. Rather, it has constant difficulty in funding the operational training of new volunteers.”
Keough said that given the evidence of mutual benefits for employers, employees, the SA CFS and local communities from volunteer training, there is a need for greater policy consideration of how to create a wider funding base for public safety volunteer training by finding synergies with vocational training supported through the national training system.