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Home > News > January 2006 > 18-Jan-2006

Volunteering helps address UK skills gaps says survey

Managers across the UK fail to see how voluntary work boosts career opportunities and skills, despite high numbers giving up their time at home and abroad. That's according to research published this week by the Chartered Management Institute and VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas).

The research found that while individuals who volunteer internationally develop expertise that addresses UK skills gaps, they do not always market themselves sufficiently when they return home - even though employers are quick to recognise the value of volunteering.

516 managers were questioned for the research which revealed that the majority of managers (78%) are involved in voluntary activity. Altruism and the desire to help others was the top reason for volunteering both 'at home' (79%) and internationally (65%). However, the findings point to a missed opportunity as few considered the impact volunteer work could have on their career. Only 23% saw it as a chance to build networks, just 16% cited the prospect of learning new skills and 12% said professional development was a motivating factor.

Yet the research, for which 100 former VSO volunteers were also interviewed, demonstrated how international experience has a significant impact on skills development. Eighty percent of volunteers believed they returned with expertise that they would not have gained in the UK. Almost all (92%) said they were now more capable of handling different cultures and three-quarters (74%t) suggested they became better communicators. Around half also claimed that voluntary work had developed problem solving abilities (57%) and influencing skills (46%).

According to the research, these newly acquired skills have the potential to make managers significantly more employable as they directly address areas where organisations admit to the persistence of skills gaps. Diversity management (26%) and communication (27%) were identified, in the research, as key areas of shortage. One-third also reported difficulties in recruiting those skilled in conflict management (34%) and managing change (38%).

The report suggests support from employers for those who have undertaken overseas volunteer activity, with 94% agreeing or strongly agreeing that it increases skills and 48% believing it increases employability. 60% of employers accepted that domestic work can be an effective method of skills development, while 39% said the same of long-term international work.

Other report findings include:

* 88% of managers said they would not be averse to employing someone who had recently returned from volunteering overseas

* Of those who had employed a volunteer, 67% agreed that they brought different skills and experience to the organisation in comparison to other employees

* 58% of former volunteers said they had received a positive response from potential employers and just 5% had difficulty in finding work

However, many respondents (41%) also suggested that organisations would be more inclined to employ long-term volunteers if they could demonstrate formal recognition of how they made an impact. A similar number (40%) felt references from overseas employers would make a difference. According to the research, former volunteers supported this by saying that in retrospect they felt it was important to present their volunteering as part of their career development.

Mary Chapman, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, said: "The findings offer powerful support for the benefits of voluntary activity and it is clear from this research that having a broad skill-set, the ability to communicate well and tackle difficult issues is critical for career success. Individuals should nurture these skills and consider how they record and recognise voluntary achievements in a way that attracts potential employers."

Mark Goldring, chief executive at VSO, added: "Managers must recognise that international volunteering can have reciprocal benefits and that by sharing their skills as a VSO volunteer not only can they play a significant role in the fight against poverty but they can also influence their future career and contribute to their company's success.

"Former volunteers have suggested that their overseas experience gave them a confidence that opened doors to opportunities that some felt were previously beyond them. We urge individuals and employers to reconsider how volunteering can have a lasting impact on the lives of some of the most disadvantaged people in the world at the same time as influencing career progression."

External links

For further information about the report - 'Valuing Volunteering', visit: www.managers.org.uk/researchreports

Chartered Management Institute

VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas)

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