Andrew McCoshan looks at how European-funded projects are helping volunteers to get recognition for the skills they acquire whilst volunteering.
There is no denying the popularity of volunteering, especially amongst young adults. About one quarter of 15–30-year-olds take part in voluntary activities, mainly to the benefit of their local communities. Motivations vary, of course, from individual to individual but important reasons include the desire to benefit others and also to add to the skills people might have obtained through formal learning.
Unfortunately, we've often lacked ways in which these skills can be systematically identified and given recognition through certificates or qualifications. Such recognition is important to help people maximise the benefits of their volunteering both for themselves and for the wider economy and society. Tools like the European Skills Passport have been developed as general ways of helping people record such skills, but an important question is how they can be applied to the specific context of volunteering. Guidance on volunteering is available at European level, and the Youthpass has been introduced for people taking part in EU-funded projects. But two EU-funded projects are also deserving of our attention.
The first of these projects is VOLUE which has produced practical advice focused on the volunteer and how they could be best supported by voluntary agencies. It has usefully identified 10 steps towards recognition complemented by 10 ways volunteers can be supported, as shown in Box 1.
Box 1 Recognition in volunteering: steps and support
10 steps for the volunteer
10 ways to support the volunteer
|Step 1 Commitment: Do I want to invest time and effort to get recognition?|
Step 1 Training certificate
Step 2 Starting up & setting targets:What is my motivation to get recognition, and what are my goals?
Step 2 Testimonial
Step 3 Preparing personal profile: How am I going to do this?
|Step 3 How to describe your voluntary work on your c.v.|
Step 4 Retrospective, developing personal profile: What have I done and learned until now?
|Step 4 Competence profiles for the various positions of volunteers|
Step 5 Choosing the standard: For example: the qualifications framework that is used in vocational education.
Step 5 Tools for self assessment
|Step 6 Valuation: Comparing my competences with the standard I have chosen.||Step 6 Assessment by others (360º feedback)|
|Step 7 Finalising validation: Getting formal recognition by an external institute.||Step 7 Documenting products/results of the work of the volunteer|
Step 8 Prospective: advise/personal development: Making a plan for further personal growth/development/education.
Step 8 Gathering evidence
|Step 9 Working on personal development: Implementing the plan.|
Step 9 Offering a portfolio for volunteers
Step 10 Empowerment: I keep working on my personal development.
|Step 10 Making an agreement with institutes for formal recognition|
Using these ideas as a foundation, the Roads to Recognition project has gone one stage further and developed both a training framework for board members and staff of voluntary organisations, and a Europass Certificate for Volunteers.
The purpose of the Certificate is to help to explain what volunteers have learnt during a period of voluntary activities by providing a clear and objective description of work carried out and the skills and competences obtained and endorsed by all relevant parties. As well as helping the volunteer as they move on into further voluntary work or employment, the Certificate also helps other voluntary agencies to understand the volunteer's capabilities much better.
Importantly, the project has developed a Guide which, amongst other things, identifies a number of minimum requirements and quality criteria to be observed, shown in Box 2.
Box 2 Europass Certificate for Volunteers: minimum requirements and quality criteria
Duration of the experience : three to six months with the volunteer doing voluntary work for at least half a day a week.
The voluntary role is socially useful and improves the community.
The duration of the voluntary work is significant (the Certificate will not be issued for experiences of one day duration).
The organisation ensures that appropriate preparation is provided to the volunteer, and identifies a mentor to assist, inform, guide and monitor the volunteer. The organisation is responsible for a written agreement about the content, the objectives and the duration of voluntary work.
The organisation is responsible for the preparation and the evaluation of the voluntary work experience to which the Certificate is connected.
In addition, the Guide provides useful practical tools like an example of an action plan, the format for an introductory conversation between the volunteer and the voluntary organisation and tips based on experiences so far, as well as an example Certificate.
All-in-all, the Certificate, and accompanying Guide, makes a valuable contribution to supporting the benefits of volunteering, and has received wide recognition, including through Europass Netherlands.
Andrew McCoshan has worked in education and training for over 20 years. For the last 10 years he has specialised in policy development studies and evaluations for the EU, and before that was a consultant in the UK. Andrew is currently a freelance consultant, an Associate with the UK Higher Education Academy, an ECVET Expert for the UK, and a Member of the UK Education & Employers Taskforce Research Group.