Can employer supported volunteering boost employability?

Employer organisations often bemoan the lack of employable skills in today’s school leavers. Whilst there has been a great deal of focus on how the school curriculum can be adapted to include volunteering within the community, less attention has been given to how employers can help to boost the employability of our youngsters. A new report from the think tank Demos argues that employer supported volunteer programmes could address this and, at the same time, be a triple win for business.

Bosses should award promotions or pay rises to employees who have done the most volunteering, according to the report, which argues that in-house volunteering programmes are a ‘triple win’, boosting employees’ skills and job satisfaction, reducing sky-high training costs for businesses and benefiting the local community. The idea, says Demos, could see employees given time off work to mentor pupils to improve their literacy, organise community sports events or give careers advice at nearby schools.

Getting more staff to volunteer is a triple-win for businesses. We need to get businesses on board to make volunteering an everyday part of people’s work life.

The report, Scouting for Skills,  says making employer supported volunteering programmes the norm across the UK could be a game-changer in achieving the Government’s Step Up To Serve campaign, whose aim is to get 50 per cent of young people to take part in social action by 2020.

As a starter, it says that businesses could make savings on their budgets for staff training and redirect these funds into hiring intermediate organisations to match volunteers with organisations that need support. These brokers could also help accredit the skills that volunteers gain so they are recognised by employers.

Improved performance

British businesses currently spend around £40bn a year on training, roughly equivalent to the government’s annual spending on schools, with individual leadership training courses costing an average of over £2,500 per person. Figures cited in the report calculate the average cost per employee of running a volunteer program is just £381.10 a year, less than a third of the average cost per year of training a manager (approximately £1,337).

Instead, Demos recommends bosses give their workers ‘volunteer days’ off work, in addition to their annual leave, and encourage a work culture of volunteering. Moreover, the report argues that employers should consider the volunteering activities of their staff as part of their performance review, by including targets in performance reviews and using volunteer league tables amongst staff when deciding pay rises and promotions.

This is less about incentivising employees to take part, but rather helping to establish and shift our expectations about what constitutes a ‘model employee’: not just as someone who is good at their job, but who is also committed to having an impact in the wider community

The report includes polling showing 61% of employees agreed volunteering experience made them perform better in their job. Two-thirds (66%) saw a noticeable improvement in their communication skills, with negotiating (45%), team-working (43%) and leadership skills (41%) also noticing significant progress.

As part of the project, Demos interviewed several business leaders, who backed the findings and reinforced the idea that employer volunteering schemes were a much more cost effective way of upskilling their workforce and retaining staff than expensive training courses.

Triple win

The report argues that work volunteer schemes also offer outstanding personal development opportunities to the 14.4 million employees who work for SMEs, many of which struggle to offer structured training programmes.

While 70per cent of FTSE 100 companies have some kind of employee volunteer programme, the figure drops substantially to 20% of medium-sized businesses, and just 14 per cent of small businesses.

A recent poll showed 58 per cent of employees are likely to volunteer if they receive support from their employer, with less than one in five unlikely to take up the opportunity.

The report makes a distinction between ‘skills-based volunteering’; utilising the employees existing professional skill-set such as an accounting doing the books for a charity, and additional volunteering; boosting soft skills such as communication, leadership and organisation. However, the report also points to less tangible benefits for employees and communities:

  • the more an employee volunteers, the greater their job satisfaction
  • benefits to local communities, and younger generations, from greater opportunities to participate in schemes run by an increased number of volunteers
  • closer relationships are encouraged between employers and broker organisations who co-ordinate volunteering options, allowing bosses to assign opportunities to staff based on the specific skills they feel are most valuable to their development

On top of this, the report also urges voluntary organisations to develop accreditation schemes that formally recognise the skills obtained by volunteers.

Jonathan Birdwell, Head of the Citizenship Programme at Demos and author of the report, said:

“Getting more staff to volunteer is a triple-win for businesses. Employers gain workers that are more skilled, productive and loyal without having to pay out for expensive training courses. Employees gain new skills and the satisfaction of making a difference in their community; and by encouraging their employees to work with young people, businesses unlock the potential of the next generation of workers.”

“Lots of employees would like to volunteer but aren’t being given the chance. We need to get businesses on board to make volunteering an everyday part of people’s work life.”

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