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Employers failing to recognise advantages of varied career paths


International volunteers who have lived and worked in developing countries are finding that their skills are not recognised on return to the UK, even though these skills are exactly the ones employers say they are looking for: adaptability, innovation, relationship building and global awareness. 'Human Traffic', a new report from think-tank Demos and international volunteering charity VSO indicates that recruiters tend to see time spent overseas as a career break rather than career development, and fail to recognise the abilities which it nurtures in volunteers.

Gillian Thomas, author of Human Traffic, said: "Although employers talk a lot about flexibility and innovation, many seem to unable to put these ideas into practice when faced with people who have pursued unconventional career paths. Although overseas volunteers are often given far more management responsibility than had in the UK, they are often forced to take lower salaries when they return home."

The report has even identified circumstances where experience of volunteering overseas has led to serious career setbacks. However, some companies are now supporting staff in taking up the challenge of a period of volunteering. Similarly, some volunteers have built their experience into a active strategy for career progression, by improving specific skills.

The report offers some possible solutions to the widespread failure of volunteers and companies to match skills with needs. The principal suggestions are:
- international accreditation of volunteers' personal development
- e-learning which would keep volunteers in touch with their professions at home
- a dedicated recruitment agency to link volunteers to employers

In general , the report calls for a broader awareness of transferrable and increasingly significant skills. As Mark Goldring, chief executive of VSO, noted: "International volunteers have gained a first-hand understanding of what globalisation and working in and amongst people with different cultural beliefs means at ground level. This knowledge can be as useful to an inner city local authority in Britain as it is in a development project in sub-Saharan Africa."


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