Unskilled by Association?

Andy Fryar April 1, 2004 1
Unskilled by Association?

OzVPM HOT TOPIC – APRIL 2004

By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar

In compiling the ‘Positions Vacant’ pages featured on OzVPM, I am constantly accessing a wide variety of both print and electronic resources, in order to bring to you all a good selection of available volunteer management positions within the Australasian region.

I noticed recently that one specific web based recruitment service features, at the bottom of each vacancy, two small category headings which obviously exist to help categorise the particular vacancy published on that page.

These are identified on the site under the titles of ‘Sector’ and ‘Sub-Sector’.

For example, a nursing position would feature the following descriptive additions:

Sector – Healthcare

Sub-sector – Nursing

Other examples include:

Electrical Engineer

Sector – Engineering

Sub-sector – Electrical / Electronics

Retail Sales Representative

Sector – Sales

Sub-sector – Non Technical

Forklift Driver

Sector – Logistics Transport & Supply

Sub-sector – Warehouse & Distribution

So why is this a Hot Topic?

Well firstly, because from time to time vacancies appear within those pages for volunteer positions, and in nearly every case I can remember, the ‘sub-category’ heading always featuring the phrase ‘unskilled’ !

For instance, a volunteer position in a wildlife sanctuary would read as:

Sector – Environment

Sub-sector – Unskilled

Similarly, a volunteer managing a charity shop would be assigned a title something like:

Sector – Retail

Sub-sector – Unskilled

Just what is it that makes people assume that volunteers are without skill?

The 2000 Australian Bureau of Statistics* (ABS) national survey of voluntary work actually indicates quite a different picture. The survey found that around 73% of volunteers were actually in the paid workforce undertaking a wide range of highly skilled professions.

When asked their occupation type , the largest response came from volunteers who identified their paid work occupation as being ‘professionals’ in their chosen field. Further, the categories of ‘Advanced clerical and service workers’, ‘Managers and Administrators’ and ‘Associate Professionals’ rounded out the top four professions in the ABS data.

In brief, professionals and managers volunteered at nearly twice the rate of labourers and related workers ** (who are not without considerable skills in their own right!)

In addition, a 2003 Volunteering Australia research report examining the profile of individuals who search for volunteer opportunities via on-line recruitment sites such as GoVolunteer, found that a massive 69% of site visitors had some sort of tertiary education ***

I think all these figures speak for themselves and I am quite sure we are all comfortable throwing the notion of volunteers being without skill right out of the window!

There is however a second reason that this topic is a ‘hot’ one.

On several occasions when accessing the same web based job search program, I have also noticed that vacancies listed for paid positions such as ‘Volunteer Coordinator’ or ‘Volunteer Manager’ have also featured the term ‘unskilled’ in the sub-heading category!

Now I suspect that this is in actual fact the result of a faulty system command which recognises the term ‘volunteer’ in the title and defaults the sub-category heading to the unskilled title. However this example actually triggers several key thoughts for me and I believe it is indicative of the way volunteer management is treated in many organisations.

Here are just a few of the ways I see this playing out in some volunteer programs:

• Volunteer Program Managers who are not offered professional development opportunities or allocated budgetary funds for training
• Senior management who willingly fill volunteer management positions within their organisations with individuals from other departments, assuming that the skills these individuals have are automatically transferable to the coordination of volunteer resources
• Poorly written job descriptions being developed for vacant volunteer management positions within organisations. (Eg. I recently read an advert for the position of ‘Volunteer Coordinator’ that did not even once mention that experience working with volunteers was a criteria for the role!)
• Volunteer Managers being expected to fulfil full-time roles on a part-time roster
• The fact that salary levels are often lower for Volunteer Managers in an organisation than for staff of other areas doing similar roles
• The positioning of Volunteer Managers within organisational structures (ie Volunteer Managers are often not seen to be a part of the senior staff of an organisation)
• Poor levels of resources being made available to Volunteer Managers to undertake their job

The volunteer of the new millennium is highly skilled, determined and focused on outcomes and yet there appears to remain a proportion of our society who continue to associate volunteers only with the traditional stereotypical qualities of low skills and benevolence.

Of even greater concern is the apparent assumption that because volunteers are perceived to be unskilled, that volunteer management also requires very few acquired talents.

As we all know only too well, nothing could be further from the truth!

So are we in fact ‘unskilled’ by association?

Let’s hear what you think?

• Do you agree that this appears to be a problem within volunteer management circles?
• What personal experiences have you had (both good and bad)?
• What strategies have you employed to turn this type of thinking around in your organisation?
• If you already work in an organisation where both volunteers and volunteer management are highly valued, what are the key factors that make this so successful?
• What can we do as a sector to ensure that these stereotypes are not perpetuated any longer?

One Comment »

  1. ozvpm_andy April 14, 2012 at 11:36 am - Reply

    Posted on April 11th, 2004 by S.Joricho, Volunteer Coordinator, Sydney, Australia

    Thank you for raising this important issue.

    I think you are quite right that CEO’s and other senior managers often treat Volunteer Coordinators as being lowly skilled and they never really appreciate the work that we do. In my organisation, I have been trying to gain some extra help for the last three years. Management’s solution is that they keep sending me redeployees from a range of other areas, none of which have ever managed anyone (let alone volunteers) in their life!

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