Volunteer work undervalued by employers, report reveals

Employers
are failing to recognise the skills that job candidates develop when they
return from voluntary work overseas, claims a report.

The
research, by Demos and VSO, shows that despite the current skills shortages many
job applicants are being overlooked by employers when they return from
volunteer work abroad.

Employers
often view time out of the UK as wasted when it actually develops a range of
skills including communication, adaptability and strategic thinking, claims the
report.

Report
author Gillian Thomas said, "Most employers overlook these skills because
they don’t see volunteering as career building. It’s seen a personal matter and
it’s not really looked upon as a working activity.

"We
also found that overseas experience isn’t considered to be as valuable as UK
experience."

Volunteering
abroad also develops awareness of global issues, cultural idiosyncrasies,
language skills, religious understanding and the ability to adapt to a new
environments, claims the report. On returning to the UK, ex-volunteers have
more advanced inter-personnel and budgeting skills than their contemporaries,
but still end up getting caught in a skills trap. They often take reduced
responsibility and remuneration.

Thomas
said, "The public sector seemed to be more positive about volunteering,
but less able to integrate it into their organisations. There were even cases
of people being demoted on their return."

She
explained that HR should be encouraging staff to consider volunteering as part
of their career development. She said, "There is a real opportunity for HR
to be more flexible in the way people progress but also in letting people
explain the skills they have learned and incorporate that into appraisals.

"HR
is making great progress in looking at ways of making people’s careers more
flexible but not seeing volunteering as a part of this. Employers must stop
seeing careers as just linear because these people can have an enormous impact
on the skills shortage."

By Ross Wigham

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