Spotlight on: volunteering

If HR managers are keen to climb the career ladder, they must show how their attitude, application and abilities can make a real difference to the business as a whole.

In many environments – and HR is certainly one of them – managers have to be able to work with individuals who work at different speeds and share different values and interests. HR managers need to consider the ‘broader picture’ and have the ability to communicate, influence and deliver results that affect the long-term strategic direction of their business. So how can these skills be developed?

One answer is through training and development. Qualifications certainly help as they can challenge and benchmark individuals. But they do so against defined criteria. So, as someone wanting to progress within HR, how can you develop, yet still stand out from the crowd?

A study published by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and Volun-tary Service Overseas (VSO), reveals that voluntary work can help you improve the skills needed to further your career and, at the same time, give you experience in wider business areas.

But just undertaking voluntary activity is not enough. Some employers still believe it is a distraction, with only one in 10 volunteers involved in a programme through work. So it is important to be able to position the skills that you learn to demonstrate how they directly apply to your day-to-day work.

After all, most HR managers would say that recruiting someone depends on how they present themselves and their experience. So practise what you preach. In the same way that you look for evidence of competency when recruiting, think about how you can highlight and present the skills you learn.

In practical terms, this may involve recording activity in a workbook for your continuous professional development or assessment by potential employers. But you need to make it relevant. If you are volunteering for a local charity, for example, consider how the skills you develop relate to the budgetary element of your role.

CMI’s research also identified alignment between skills gaps in organisations and those being developed through voluntary work. Almost all respondents said they were now more capable of handling different cultures, and about half claimed that volunteering developed problem-solving abilities.

These newly acquired skills could also make you more employable. Many organisations are short of skills such as diversity management, or communication and conflict management – all of which can be developed through voluntary work.

There is a clear argument to support voluntary activity as a route to improving the skills you, and your employer, need. In today’s flatter organisations, we are all aware that the concepts of a ‘linear career structure’ or a ‘job for life’ are becoming anachronistic, but you can be proactive in managing your career development.

HR managers should recognise that by sharing and publicising their skills, not only can they play a significant role within the wider community, but they can also influence their future career and contribute to their company’s success.

Top 5 skills developed by volunteers

  1. Communications
  2. Influencing and persuading
  3. Project management
  4. Managing change
  5. Coaching and mentoring

Source: Chartered Management Institute

Jo Causon is the director of marketing and corporate affairs at the Chartered Management Institute.

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