David Cameron’s ‘Three Days’
Despite press speculation that David Cameron’s proposal to offer a three day volunteering entitlement to all employees of public bodies and large companies was going to be shelved due to opposition from some Tory backbenchers and business leaders, we have learned recently from the minister that it is definitely going ahead. This is good news. As NCVO responded when the idea was first mooted during the General Election, the proposal has the potential to bring about a sea-change in employer-supported volunteering and inject much needed skills and expertise into the voluntary and community sector, at a time when such resource has never been more needed.
Of course as with all such legislation, and we understand that primary legislation will be required to make it happen, the devil will be in the detail. It has been suggested that government might introduce the entitlement on a right to request basis, similar to the current request which can be made by employees on flexible working, or phase the programme in over the term of the Parliament, moving from one day entitlement to the full three over five years, or starting with the low-hanging fruit of larger companies before extending the initiative to SMEs.
From Team Building to Skills’ Exchange
Whatever format the proposal takes resources will be required on both sides to maximise its benefit. Estimates suggest that if all eligible employees took up the offer it would create 15 million new employee volunteers or 350 million additional volunteering hours. Mind boggling figures which could do wonders for our over-stretched sector; but resources will be required to create meaningful opportunities and to ensure volunteers are properly managed and supported. What we don’t need are 15 million new amateur painters and decorators engaged in traditional team challenges. Harnessing the skills and expertise of employees in such areas as business development, strategic planning and contract negotiation, will require forethought, organisation and planning.
From CSR to HR
If we are to win over more employers to the benefits of employer-supported volunteering we need to do more to embed volunteering within HR and personnel development and not see it purely as a part of a company’s CSR strategy. A new report published by Step up to Serve and CIPD suggests how this might be achieved. It builds on previous work by CIPD which found that despite recognition among many employers that engagement in volunteering can build key skills, few ask about a candidate’s volunteering as part of the recruitment process.
The report identifies a number of ways for employers to embed social action into their recruitment practices for example by:
- highlighting the company’s commitment to social action on its website – to demonstrate this is an important part of the corporate ethos
- referencing the importance attached to volunteering in all job adverts
- providing support to guide candidates through the application process, both written and face-to-face
- including on application forms a section for candidates to talk about their volunteering experience
- relaxing the shortlisting requirement to have certain minimum level of academic qualifications in favour of more rounded approach to selection which puts extra emphasis on extra-curricular experience including volunteering
- training interviewers to tease out candidates experience, including social action
- providing feedback to unsuccessful candidates and highlighting the role volunteering can play in building skills and experience
- integrating social action into training programmes and appraisals and personal development plans; and measuring the impact.
The report raises some important issues in my mind, not least how to embed volunteering within HR systems and processes so that we can fully harness its value and provide a spur to greater involvement, without placing undue pressure on staff. Employees should always have the right not to volunteer and should not be penalised for non-engagement. Most of the examples in the report are drawn from larger companies, which highlights yet again the challenge ahead of extending ESV into smaller businesses.
NCVO will be discussing with the sector, business and Government over the coming months what is required to ensure the ‘Three Days’ delivers the best it can for volunteers, employers and the community. It would be good to hear your views and to learn of any particularly good examples of businesses and voluntary groups which are doing this exchange well. For those interested there is a chance to discuss these issues at the next meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Civil Society and Volunteering which is taking place on 14 July at the House of Commons from 16.00 to 17.30, with speakers from CIPD, BT and National Grid. If you would like to attend you can register at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll leave you with a conundrum which has been perplexing me: is a professional painter and decorator who uses her volunteer leave to paint a school building engaged in skills-based volunteering?