No Image Available


Read more from TrainingZone

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Good Samaritans: Training opportunities in the voluntary sector


HELPING HANDSHave you been hit by the recession? Everyone knows that looking for work is a job in itself. But if you're between jobs or contracts, then why not consider offering your professional help to a charity - you may be surprised where it could lead. Fiona Nicolson reports.

The beginning of the year is traditionally the ideal time to review career aspirations and some trainers may be considering a change of direction, while others may find that the impact of the credit crunch is making that decision for them.

Whatever your job aims and whether you are employed, between jobs, or freelance, moving into the voluntary sector could be a solution to career dilemmas.

Getting involved in their activities offers a valuable opportunity to enhance your CV and professional development at a time when jobs and freelance contracts are thinner on the ground.

Photo of Simon Carter"We look for people who can deliver training in new and creative ways."
Simon Carter, The Scout Association

It also provides the unique job satisfaction that comes from helping people enhance the quality of their life.

Although the voluntary sector has been affected by the economic downturn, the skills of good trainers remain in demand.

Be prepared

"We always have a need for people who are trained practitioners," says
Simon Carter, assistant director of marketing and communications at The Scout Association: "And we look for people who can deliver training in new and creative ways."

The Association attracts 20,000 new volunteers each year, who are trained in the necessary competencies, as Carter explains:

"We cover three types of objectives: knowledge, skills and attitudes, provided through coaching, training or one-to-one support. This can range from training volunteers in how to lead a team or teach Scouting values, through to training in practical skills such as lighting fires."

The Association does not have a budget for professional trainers, who offer their skills on a voluntary basis, but Carter believes that their involvement can benefit trainers immensely:

"Coming from a training background myself, I can see that working within the voluntary sector offers a valuable opportunity for CPD because there is a greater emphasis on negotiation and influencing skills."

This is due to significant differences in organisational behaviour, as he points out: "You can't enforce attendance on a training course the way you could in a corporate environment. You can only enthuse, motivate and encourage volunteers to attend."

Photo of David Booker"We are more inclined to work with trainers who offer their services on a voluntary basis first."
David Booker, Barnardo's

Be a good samaritan

Professional trainers with time to volunteer are also welcomed by The Samaritans, which has 201 branches, with an average of four training team members at each branch and 13 regional teams.

The charity is best known for its service of providing emotional support over the phone and this is one of the areas where trainers could contribute most effectively:

"An experienced trainer could support the branch deputy director, who is responsible for training our listeners," says Ruth Buchanan, voluntary support officer: "They could help train in generic skills such as communication and motivation."

She adds: "Volunteer trainers could also help our regional training team. Each year they focus on a different training area, such as recruitment and retention, or new technology and this is then rolled out to branches."

Career development

Volunteering can lead to paid consultancy in some cases, but it may be on a very gradual basis, as Alex Dawson, learning and development manager at Breast Cancer Care explains:

"I have a pool of half a dozen or so paid consultants and we do look at any other offers on their merits, but our preference is for people to volunteer first.

"We like to start slowly and place a strong emphasis on evaluation, but if things work out well with a volunteer, we consider them for paid consultancy later on."

The range of training required at Breast Cancer Care is wide ranging: "While we focus mainly on communication skills, core business skills training in budget management, team building and performance management are very useful to us too," says Dawson: "We're also looking for good coaches, as we are in the process of instilling a coaching culture."

He has a clear specification for what the organisation needs from an external trainer: "The key thing for us is to strike a balance. We don't want trainers to adapt to our culture too much, as we want to benefit from what they can bring to the organisation. But at the same time, it's important that they fully understand our values."

Dawson also sees a benefit for external trainers from their involvement with the charity, as he explains: "We have a positive, proactive and pleasant working environment, which empowers our staff and they really want to learn. This allows trainers to fully extend their range of skills, so it is good for their own professional development too."

Photo of ALEX DAWSON"If things work out well with a volunteer, we consider them for paid consultancy later on."Alex Dawson, Breast Cancer Care

Relationship building

Other well-known charities take a similar approach to building a relationship with consultants:

"We mainly do our training in-house, but we also have a budget for some external training," says David Booker, director for volunteering, UK at Barnardo's.

"We are more inclined to work with trainers who offer their services on a voluntary basis first. Then when we get to know them and their abilities, we can consider them for paid consultancy.

"The main areas we are interested in include health and safety, retail skills, management training and counselling for people working with children.

He adds a note of caution, however: We receive lots of consultancy offers – it's a very crowded market."

Booker also points out that there could be employment opportunities for volunteers seeking a permanent position:

"All volunteers are entitled to apply for vacancies before they are advertised externally and we have a very good record of employing volunteers."

Changes in the market

Although freelance consultants may have to prove themselves first, trainer and executive coach, Patrick Ballin, of Mile One, can vouch that opportunities for paid consultancy are available:

"I'm having no difficulty in getting paid work in the voluntary sector," he confirms: "The credit crunch has hit though, as I’m finding that some projects are being delayed, especially if they are reliant on corporate sponsorship."

Ballin has also identified a sea change in training requirements within the sector, as the economic downturn takes hold: "The approach is becoming much more hard-edged than it was, as charities are now having to focus on how to make their money stretch further."

No one can overlook the impact of the economic downturn and there is no doubt it is having its effect on training. But for those seeking to change or enhance their career and contribute to the wellbeing of others at the same time, the voluntary sector offers endless possibilities.

Fiona Nicolson is a freelance business, L&D and HR writer


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.

Thank you!