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Individuals fail to capitalize on the benefits of volunteering
16 January 2006

London, UK: According to research published today by the Chartered Management Institute and the international volunteer agency VSO, individuals who volunteer internationally develop expertise that addresses skills gaps in the UK. Although employers are quick to recognize the value of volunteering, individuals do not always market themselves sufficiently when they return home.

The research done in January 2006, questioned 516 managers, revealed that the majority of managers (78 per cent) are involved in voluntary activity. Altruism and the desire to help others was the top reason for volunteering both ‘at home’ (79 per cent) and internationally (65 per cent). However, the findings point to a missed opportunity as few considered the impact volunteer work could have on their career. Only 23 per cent saw it as a chance to build networks, just 16 per cent cited the prospect of learning new skills and 12 percent said professional development was a motivating factor.

Yet the research, which also probed 100 former VSO volunteers through detailed interviews, demonstrated how international experience has a significant impact on skills development.

Eighty percent of volunteers believed they returned with expertise that they would not have gained in the UK. Almost all (92 per cent) said they were now more capable of handling different cultures and three-quarters (74 per cent) suggested they became better communicators. Around half also claimed that voluntary work had developed problem solving abilities (57 per cent) and influencing skills (46 per cent).

These newly acquired skills have the potential to make managers significantly more employable as they directly address areas where organizations admit to the persistence of skills gaps. Diversity management (26 per cent) and communication (27 per cent) were identified, in the research, as key areas of shortage. One-third also reported difficulties in recruiting those skilled in conflict management (34 per cent) and managing change (38 per cent).

The report also indicates broad support from employers for those who have undertaken overseas volunteer activity, with 94 per cent agreeing or strongly agreeing that it increases skills and 48 per cent believing it increases employability. Many also accept that domestic (60 per cent) and long-term international (39 per cent) work can be an effective method of skills development. Key findings were:

  • 88 per cent of managers said they would not be averse to employing someone who had recently returned from volunteering overseas;
  • Of those who had employed a volunteer, 67 per cent agreed that they brought different skills and experience to the organization in comparison to other employees;
  • 58 per cent of former volunteers said they had received a positive response from potential employers and just 5 per cent had difficulty in finding work

However, many respondents (41 per cent) also suggested that organizations would be more inclined to employ long-term volunteers if they could demonstrate formal recognition of how they made an impact. A similar number (40 per cent) felt references from overseas employers would make a difference. Former volunteers supported this by saying that in retrospect they felt it was important to present their volunteering as part of their career development.

Mary Chapman, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, says: "The findings offer powerful support for the benefits of voluntary activity and it is clear from this research that having a broad skill-set, the ability to communicate well and tackle difficult issues is critical for career success. Individuals should nurture these skills and consider how they record and recognise voluntary achievements in a way that attracts potential employers."

Mark Goldring, Chief Executive at VSO, adds "Managers must recognize that international volunteering can have reciprocal benefits and that by sharing their skills as a VSO volunteer not only can they play a significant role in the fight against poverty but they can also influence their future career and contribute to their company’s success. Former volunteers have suggested that their overseas experience gave them a confidence that opened doors to opportunities that some felt were previously beyond them. We urge individuals and employers to reconsider how volunteering can have a lasting impact on the lives of some of the most disadvantaged people in the world at the same time as influencing career progression."

A report, called ‘Valuing Volunteering’, outlines the research in detail.