Volunteering is strongly linked both to non-formal and informal learning. An EU report released in 2010 and indicates that, as volunteering is getting more popular, volunteers' demands are increasing in terms of experience, training and support. Among other significant findings, the study stresses that voluntary activities contribute to adult's personal development, learning skills and competences thus enhancing employability.
The importance of volunteering has long been acknowledged by the EU and this report provides insights into the current situation in the member states. Although there is a lack of a systematic and structured EU approach towards volunteering, there has been a general upward trendin the number of active volunteers over the last ten years, up to 94 million adults being involved in volunteering. In particular the number of older people volunteering is increasing, with the highest levels of volunteering among adults aged 30 to 50 years.
Many of these volunteers appreciate the opportunity that comes from volunteering to learn new skills, as well as practice existing competences. There is evidence of many countries offering a wide range of education and training opportunities. In most cases the type of education and training opportunities on offer are typically linked to the type of voluntary activity being carried out and is usually organised and provided by the voluntary organisation. These types education and training opportunities range from introductory training, ongoing and advanced training, peer volunteer support, mentoring/´buddying´ schemes and specialist training.
Though many countries have invested in volunteer management and in education and training opportunities, this study suggests that the level of available education and training opportunities available to volunteers is not sufficient to meet the volume of high numbers of volunteers. It is therefore recommended to ensure that adequate volunteers´ training is consistently done on a structured and regular basis.
Additionally the report also focused on the importance of the validation of learning taking place throughout voluntary and civil society activities. The recognition and valorisation of non- and informal learning provides important opportunities to recognise the skills and competences of volunteers. However it is reported that even in countries that have well established arrangements and policies in place for the validation of non- and informal learning there is evidence to suggest that it does not always apply to volunteering.
Thus this study recommends that organisations engaging volunteers should be more involved in the implementation of procedures for the validation of non- and informal learning and support their volunteers in using tools such as Portfolios/Volunteer Passports or Cards. This is particularly relevant when seeking to engage young people, who are increasingly aware of the importance of the skills they can gain through volunteering. Recognising voluntary activities and volunteering can be an important motivation factor for existing and potential volunteers as well as act bridge between volunteering and education.
The aim of this EU study, a comparative analysis of volunteering with 27 national reports, was to help the Commission consider ways in which the voluntary sector could be further promoted at EU level and the extent to which volunteering could help the EU in achieving its wider strategic objectives set out in for example the Social Agenda and the Lisbon Strategy.
Text: InfoNet - Ricarda Motschilnig