HOT TOPIC – APRIL / MAY 2011
By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar
OK, so maybe the title of my hot topic this month sounds a little like an instalment of an Indiana Jones movie and perhaps I’ve dramatised the title just a little – but it got your attention didn’t it!
Sadly, unlike Hollywood, my story is not a fairytale!
Three years ago I attended a forum in the northern suburbs of Adelaide where a guest presenter from Adelaide University, Eric Parnis, quoted some frightening statistics around the projected availability of paid workers in South Australia over coming years.
Quoting figures from a report written by Michael Keating on workforce development in South Australia (released in June 2008), Parnis shared figures which essentially demonstrated that over the decade 2007/08 to 2017/18 that there will be many more paid jobs available in SA than we will have people to fill those roles.
For the purpose of keeping this hot topic brief, I won’t delve into all of the specifics of the report, but I can summarise that the projected ‘gap’ between available jobs and available workers will number in the tens (if not hundreds) of thousands.
I also took the time following the presentation to ask if Eric believed these trends were likely to extend beyond SA, and with a few qualifications, he agreed that this was certainly the case. While I am not sure of exactly how this may be reflected in New Zealand, I’d also not be surprised to find that things are very similar.
If you’d like to further explore the report in detail you can find it at:
On the day that I first heard these statistics, I am sure that I turned a slight shade of grey and nearly fell off my chair, as I immediately thought of what this shortage of paid workers may mean to the availability of volunteer workers over the same period.
For me it was a pretty simple equation and a huge wake up.
If there are not enough people to do all the paid work, you can bet your bottom dollar that the big corporates, the defence force, the government and the mining industry amongst others will find ways to entice younger people into the workforce at an earlier age, create new ways to move long term unemployed people into return to work schemes and entice older Australians to stay in work beyond retirement.
Ever since, I have been sharing these figures as I have travelled the country and trained Volunteer Managers about trends in volunteer availability, because I believe that it is unrealistic for volunteer involving organisations to believe that there is a never ending supply of volunteers running around the country forever more.
Sadly, I think that many people I speak to about these statistics simply believe they won’t be affected by this growing trend and I am sure a good number simply return to their workplace and go on doing what they have always done.
As I write this month’s hot topic I’ve just had the opportunity to spend a few days with my friend, colleague and volunteer management commentator DJ Cronin (check out DJ’s blog at http://djcronin.blogspot.com/)
In a training session DJ presented, he spoke about the problem of ‘inertia’ that we face in volunteer management. That is, too many of us are prone to simply sitting on our hands and not being willing to take any sort of positive or pro-active action to move the profession forward either in their own organisations or more globally.
The theme of inertia kept coming to my mind as I thought of the anticipated challenges which may face volunteer managers in the near future, and so I thought it was time to again give a ‘call to arms’ to anyone reading this article.
I believe that time is short, and that in the next few years we will begin to see volunteer shortages become more common.
Already, since I attended that fateful workshop, the Rudd government announced that by 2023 the Australian retirement age will be raised by two years to 67 years of age. Coincidence?
This week, the Australian Opposition leader Tony Abbot has announced that the national Coalition government will commit to sweeping reforms to the Australian welfare system which will include suspending unemployment benefits in areas where unskilled work is available and making work-for-the dole mandatory for anyone under 50 who has been on unemployment benefits for more than 6 months. In addition, individuals on disability support pensions who are apparently ‘easily curable’ will also be ‘encouraged’ back to work.
Like the rise in the retirement age, these initiatives all point to a push to eventually increase the number of workers filling the shortfall, and in the interim, don’t be surprised if we, as a voluntary sector, become unwitting pawns in the game as many of these individuals are ‘pushed’ into our programs to get them work ready for paid employment.
Who wants to bet Mr Abbott does not supply us with any extra funds for any extra work which may be required of us?
So here is the simple point of this hot topic
Be vigilant and be active!
Identify those trends which may be likely to have an impact on volunteer availability or on the capacity of our programs to cope with extra welfare candidates being ‘pushed’ into volunteering. And if you think there are issues that should be raised, do something about it!
Write to a local MP. Scribble down a letter to the Editor. Respond to online articles and commentaries. Write a blog. Ask your state or national volunteer centre to make a statement on your behalf and on behalf of the sector
In short – break your inertia and voice your opinion
If we as a volunteer management community are not speaking up on behalf of our sector as these new initiatives start to be discussed and implemented, you can certainly guarantee no-one else will speak up on our behalf …and at the end of the day, when we all begin to cry foul, the government will simply say ‘we consulted and no-one said a thing!’
So let’s hear from you
What trends have you noticed that we should be addressing? Do you have tips about how to get active? Any ideas how we encourage each other to become more active? What role should our peak bodies play in all of this? What are YOU going to do?
Response posted by Sue Hine, Independent Advocate for Volunteer Management, Wellington, NZ on April 20, 2011
Inertia and Impending Doom indeed! Nearly three weeks later I am the first person to lift myself out of a Slough of Despond to say Yeah, Right! and what-am-I-going-to-do-about-it!
Andy – you are not alone in lamenting the ‘sounds of silence’ as I am sure you are aware. Some people will say you have the luxury of time for reflection, and here is what I would say to them:
Without making time for reflection you do yourself and your organisation, and volunteers, a disservice.
Yes, we are all time-poor, but if we do not consider the both-and, the day-to-day responsibilities and the wider parameters of management of volunteers, we are going to be missing lots of boats.
The big picture of what governments and funders and the private sector are doing is just as important to volunteering as what we do in our daily grind in our local community. Possibly more important in the long run.
You want to call yourself a professional? You need to take on board the criteria of ongoing training and education, engaging in a community (local, national, web-based) to keep up with the play.
There are discussion boards all over the place (especially at OzVpm) which can help answer questions and develop your practice skills in all sorts of ways.
There is such a heap of do’s and don’ts in the realm of management of volunteers, and such a range of organisations and services involving volunteers. Please, I want to know where our get-up-and-go has got-up-and-went. Can anybody out there give me an answer? I am looking for a new view that will better serve organisations, volunteers, communities, and the people like you and me engaged in management of volunteers. We just need to hear about it, and to do something!
Response posted by Wendy Moore, Volunteer Manager, Brisbane on April 22, 2011
In DJ Cronin’s recent blog post, “The sound of silence in volunteer management”, DJ laments the inertia in the volunteer management sector. The comment to this post, below, I believe, very eloquently sums up possible reasons for inertia.
“….I believe that “too busy” is often a euphemism for the fear that prevents us from speaking honestly. Any time that I had open and critical dialogue, it was behind closed doors, and only with people I knew I could trust and who shared my stresses.” Carey.
So having procrastinated long enough I thought that I had better respond to this hot topic. Carey suggested that fear was one of the reasons that people didn’t comment, blog, respond or participate in forums. I can relate to that. There have been times in the past when I have participated in forums and have received comments which I felt were underserved. This has made me extremely cautious about what I write lest I inadvertently offend someone who may then feel motivated to cast a vitriolic attack in response.
One of the reasons for my procrastination Andy was that I wanted to make sure that I had an understanding of the hot topic before I responded. Sadly I have not read the entire 200+ page article but certainly get the gist of it. These are pretty scary statistics. I understand that factors such as extending the retirement age, making work-for-the-dole mandatory for anyone under 50 and expansion of corporate, the mining industry and defence forces leading to more employment, could impact on the availability of people to volunteer. I believe that we, as volunteer managers, need to be proactive in the way in which we recruit volunteers and also have volunteer programs which can be flexible enough to allow for episodic volunteers. The assumption made above for the extended retirement age and the work-for-the-dole for under 50s is that these people would otherwise have been volunteering. This may not necessarily be the case as not everyone is motivated to volunteer. At the Australian National Volunteering Conference in Melbourne last year, Bernard Salt’s keynote address boldly predicted that the Baby Boomer generation will bring forth a ‘golden age of volunteering’. The assumption that he made was that retiring baby boomers would flood into volunteering. December ’10 / January ’11 Hot Topic – Baby Boomers: Golden Age or Bursting Bubble? I do not believe that this would be the case.
At my workplace, we have a demographically diverse group of volunteers ranging in age from 16 to 92. I did some research recently into current and previous volunteer age group percentages. I had made the assumption that the retiree and older age group would make up the largest percentage of our volunteers. In fact the highest percentage was the 16-35yr age group. I will qualify this by saying that the statistics were based on both current and previous volunteers. Many volunteers in this age group are Australian or international students and jobseekers. These volunteers are generally episodic or short term volunteers. However our volunteer program is flexible enough to accommodate short term or episodic volunteers and we have found that they make a very valuable contribution to our volunteer program and are very much accepted as part of our diverse volunteer team.
· What trends have you noticed that we should be addressing?
We need to change our way of thinking from traditional volunteering models to other models more reflective of emerging volunteering trends such as short term/episodic, job seeker, international visitors, spontaneous and corporate volunteers. We need to have flexible volunteer programs which can accommodate these types of volunteers.
· Do you have tips about how to get active?
I would suggest that as Jayne Cravens suggests “Read More Books”, grasp new ideas and be bold enough to share your knowledge with others.
· Any ideas how we encourage each other to become more active?
I would suggest that we support and encourage each other through blogs and forums and networking. I think that people would be more inclined to go beyond their comfort zone and try something new if they felt supported by their peers rather than fear criticism.
· What role should our peak bodies play in all of this?
Our peak bodies need to participate in dialogue in forums, blogs, on websites, in newspapers and at conferences. They need to be active in promoting and advocating for our sector with government departments, ministers, boards and the media and other key stake holders. They need to network with volunteer managers at the coal face at a local level to discover emerging trends and other issues facing volunteer managers on the ground.
· What are YOU going to do?
I am considering presenting at the Australian National Volunteering Conference in Brisbane later this year. I am taking a huge leap of faith and going way beyond my comfort zone to do this but it is something that I am passionate about and I feel that this is an important next step in my professional development in volunteer management.