by Katherine Garrett, Senior Manager, Community Investment
Volunteering and social action have been hot topics on the political agenda over the last few years, culminating in David Cameron’s announcement in April, in the run up to the general election, that employees in larger organisations should be able to volunteer for three days per year. The Government has committed to introducing this policy over the course of the next five years, and representatives from the CIPD have already begun talks with officials at the Cabinet Office and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, feeding in our views as to how this can be implemented to the benefit, rather than the detriment, of organisations and employees.
Volunteering can boost employability skills
The firm commitment to support for employer supported volunteering (ESV) by the Government is seen by many as the realisation of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ agenda, a topic explored in a recent CIPD report, From Big Society to the big organisation. As the report highlighted, the Government wants to encourage people to take an active role in their communities through volunteering and other social action activities, and has been supportive of initiatives such as the Step Up To Serve #iwill campaign, which aims to increase the number of young people involved in social action, in part so that it becomes a habit for life.
The CIPD has been a key supporter of the cross-party #iwill campaign from the outset, which defines social action as ‘practical action in the service of others that creates a double benefit’. We are a member of the campaign’s Business Pioneers group and recently collaborated with them to develop a new guide for employers on how to integrate social action into their recruitment processes. While young people are contributing to their local communities their volunteering and social action activities also help them to develop the all-important employability skills that we know so many organisations seek. By recognising this experience in the recruitment process, alongside qualifications and traditional work experience, employers will have access to a wide range of talented individuals who otherwise they might miss out on.
However, it’s important that we recognise that volunteering can help people of any age improve their skills and there is a strong case for wider integration of volunteering into HR practices. Employers tell us that staff with volunteering experience often demonstrate better communication and team working skills, as well as a greater understanding of the local community. More than two thirds of employers (70%) surveyed by us at the end of 2014 said that volunteering could form part of staff development plans. However, less than two fifths (39%) of organisations currently incorporate volunteering into either employee development or engagement strategies. This suggests there is still a long way to go before organisations embrace ESV and we will be working hard to develop and promote the business case for individuals and HR professionals.
We have already made a start on this with our Volunteering to learn report, published in 2014, which highlights the case for integrating social action into employee learning and development (L&D) and provides a number of case studies of organisations who are already doing this successfully. Later this year we will also be launching some joint research with the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) which explores how employers can best work with charities when delivering volunteering programmes for their employees. The most successful ESV programmes are ones that help employees to develop their skills whilst achieving maximum impact for the charity or community they are working with.
The Government has also been supporting programmes that encourage volunteer driven impact via the Centre for Social Action and Innovation Fund, which ‘supports the growth of innovations that mobilise people’s energy and talents to help each other, working alongside public services’. One of the initiatives that the fund has helped to expand is our very own Steps Ahead Mentoring programme which now has over 3,000 CIPD volunteers working to help jobseekers. More than two thirds of the jobseekers who complete the programme go on to find employment, demonstrating the real change CIPD members can make to people’s lives. Whilst the programme was initially launched to help young people into work our mentors have recently begun helping older jobseekers (aged 50+) and women returners in a number of small pilot areas. Over the coming months these pilots will be expanded, which means more jobseekers will be helped into work by CIPD members.
A new CIPD Community Investment team
Even prior to the launch of Steps Ahead, volunteers have been crucial to the CIPD’s success, with hundreds of branch volunteers and board members helping to govern the organisation and ensure that a large programme of events and activities are available to members in all corners of the UK. However, we believe we can do more for individual volunteers to ensure they have the right training and support, and understand how their experience aligns to their professional and personal development. This is an area the CIPD is committed to developing via the newly formed Community Investment team, which will also be looking at how the CIPD can support other volunteer powered organisations, as well as ESV.
One of the first actions of the Community Investment team has been to ask CIPD members for their views on volunteering. The 2013-14 Community Life survey run by the Government reported that 41% of adults volunteered at least once in a formal capacity (that is through a group, club or organisation) in that year. Our new survey data indicates that, by and large, CIPD members and the HR community are much more likely to volunteer than the general population. You can draw your own conclusions as to why that is, but we like to think that, as the professionals responsible for people, HR practitioners have high levels of empathy and want to use their skills for good.
The survey (watch this space for the future findings) also explored the types of volunteering opportunities that CIPD members are most interested in, with higher-level, strategic, opportunities proving to be the most popular. As a result, we will be seeking to establish a suite of exciting new skills-based volunteering opportunities for members that promote the CIPD’s key purpose of championing better work and working lives. Several opportunities are already available to members, including HRNet run by The Cranfield Trust and SkillUP, run by Team London, which both offer free HR training or support to the charity sector. We look forward to developing more opportunities, working alongside other key charities and partners to further establish the HR community as a force for good.
If you have any questions about volunteering or want to find out more about the Community Investment team, please contact Katherine Garrett.