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An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with Creative and Cultural Skills

Without volunteering, many organisations in the cultural sector simply couldn’t operate. But it can also act as a route for people to move into paid work, writes Jane Ide.

performer speaks to children

Gina Medina Brown

Volunteering can be an invaluable source of labour, as well as a way to engage with those invested in their work. But are organisations doing enough to facilitate this, particularly as a way to support disadvantaged or underrepresented young people? And is the message getting through?

There are many reasons that can motivate someone to volunteer: social, altruistic or professional development. It can also be crucial, especially for disadvantaged or underrepresented young people, to move into paid employment. At CCSkills, we’ve spoken with young people who have used volunteering opportunities to build confidence, learn new skills and develop networks that have enabled them to find work in the cultural sector. 

Their stories have been fantastic examples of what can be done by a really engaged organisation. But we’ve also heard that more organisations could be offering opportunities, more could have been done to advertise these roles in the places that young people would see them, and more to promote the benefits that come from volunteering. With post-lockdown unemployment numbers still sadly high among young people, is volunteering an untapped resource for developing skills to employment?

Blurred lines between volunteering and unpaid work

Volunteering is a long-established practice in many cultural organisations. Despite its longstanding practice, or perhaps because of it, we’ve seen that organisations can often unintentionally blur the lines between genuine volunteering and exploiting someone for unpaid work. We’ve spoken at length about the inexcusable (and illegal!) practice of unpaid internships and ‘volunteering’ to replace a salaried position. 

But what about well-intentioned organisations ensuring their policies and procedures are robust enough to communicate the expectations of a role? At CCSkills, we offer free online training sessions for organisation to understand volunteering best practice, volunteer agreements and how volunteering opportunities can aid diversity and inclusion.

An organisation will greatly benefit from engaging with volunteers, not just for the help they can provide, but also as means of engaging with wider and more diverse audiences. A force of volunteers will often be much larger than a salaried workforce, and have the potential to draw in people who may have never considered careers in heritage before. 

With that in mind, an organisation should take into account the motivations of its volunteers, not only to aid recruitment, but also to ensure their volunteers get the most rewarding experience possible and – if desired – the skills and contacts to move into employment.

Strong volunteer strategy and policy

As part of our podcast series, we spoke to Esther Lisk-Carew, Volunteers Coordinator for Manchester International Festival and Rosie Wylie, Community Engagement Manager, Historic Environment Scotland, both of whom ran very successful volunteer programmes.  They agreed that it was crucial to have a strong volunteer strategy and policy, as well as volunteer representation at board level. They also spoke about the support they have enjoyed for the volunteer programmes from the communities they engaged with.

One area we’ve seen an opportunity for engagement is between cultural organisations and Job Centre Plus. It doesn’t appear to be an obvious source of volunteer recruitment for cultural organisations. From the other side, it may not be immediately apparent to many job centre career coaches to advocate for this, despite having access to a number of young people who may not otherwise engage with cultural organisations, but could really use a volunteering opportunity to make that next step into paid employment. 

At CCSkills, we’re looking to address this by introducing training for careers professionals in the near future. As we’ve said, our upcoming podcast will start this discussion, and we hope to continue it with debate and training for our partners in the sector.

Jane Ide is the CEO of Creative & Cultural Skills.

 @Jane_CCSkills | @CCSkills

This article, sponsored and contributed by Creative & Cultural Skills, is part of a series promoting apprenticeships and challenging entrenched social inequalities, to create a more diverse workforce.

Link to Author(s): 
Jane Ide