Over the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed a new trend – “the professional volunteer”. I’ll explain: As the recession starts to have an impact on the public sector, more staff are facing the reality of redundancy. Some individuals are finding that it’s not so easy to get another job after having been made redundant as there are less vacancies out there.
Instead, they are exploring different options to maintain their skills or even upskill whilst looking for work. A number of high profile organisations are now being approached by keen professionals who want to offer their services for free in return for the opportunity to gain further work experience at a middle-management level – “the professional volunteer”
For me, to make any arrangement like this to work, there needs to be a win-win outcome. It’s clear from the “professional volunteer’s” point of view that they will benefit from such an arrangement if they develop new skills or understanding of an organisation / sector, which in turns enables them to secure a job.
But from an organisational point of view it is less clear. Any new member of the team (whether it’s a volunteer or a paid member of staff) requires time and attention as they start to learn about the organisation and settle in their role: An organisation makes an investment with their new staff in order to ensure that there’s a postive outcome at the end. Therefore, for an organisation to take on a “professional volunteer”, the individual must add value to the organisation through the work that they are doing.
There’s an additional complication – how do organisations gain an understanding of the level of competence of the “professional volunteer”? At present, these individuals are approaching organisations through informal routes. There is no rigourous testing of their skills, abilities or values. Firstly, organisations need to be cautious about ensuring that the appropriate checks are undertaken. Secondly, organisastions need to esnure that the “professional volunteer” is not there just to be an additional pair of hands, but is given a role that is appropriate to their skill set.
And what happens when the “professional volunteer” is offered a job? What arrangements have been put in place to manage such eventualities? Whilst an organisation does not want to limit the opportunities for the “professional volunteer”, they also want to safeguard themselves against being left with a half-completed project.
Lastly, there is the moral argument that such placements should be paid some level of remuneration (expenses at least?).
This concept is still in its infancy, and I believe many organisations are still trying to decide on how to manage this emerging development and find answer to these questions.