Volunteering as a tool for employee development

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Volunteering involves providing your knowledge, skills and abilities, as well as your time and energy, without establishing a working relationship and usually without any monetary compensation. Employees who take on volunteer roles are able to learn new skills and practice existing skills in a different setting from their day-to-day work.

Through volunteering, employees can try something different from their usual job and bring new skills back to the workplace, adding value to their employer by improving their current job performance. They may even improve their employer’s succession management efforts, as they are prepared to move into positions of greater responsibility more quickly and effectively than they would have been had they not accepted the role. of volunteer.

The best part about this employee development strategy is that it doesn’t cost the organization as much as sending the employee to expensive training workshops or hiring a coach. In fact, it often costs the organization nothing.

In my book ATD Press, Low cost employee development, I describe 11 different methods for developing employees outside of the classroom. The chapter on volunteering explains:

  • who should try volunteering
  • how volunteer projects benefit learners and the organization
  • what skills volunteering can develop
  • how to establish volunteer efforts.

The chapter ends with a case study that illustrates the success of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in offering this type of development method.
PwC’s Belize ProjectProject Belize, an initiative that pairs PwC employees with schools in Belize City, focuses primarily on financial literacy and environmental sustainability. Specifically, some 200 PwC volunteers – partners, employees and interns from across the United States – traveled to Belize City, Belize during the summer of 2011. The PwC team contacted more than 1,200 students from 10 schools in some of Belize’s poorest areas. and focused on organizing a financial literacy camp for young people, running an academic mentorship program for current and former Belizean students, financial and technology training for teachers.

According to the project website“since its creation, [they] contributed 30,000 pounds of school supplies, awarded approximately 765 high school equivalent scholarships so that these students could continue their education, and delivered our financial literacy program to 6,412 students with the help of 1,609 interns, partners and employees talented and enthusiastic people of PwC.

In addition, volunteers built “Learning Landscape” play areas using reused materials. Justin Suissa, volunteer at PwC, explains that “experience [building learning landscape playgrounds] was valuable on so many levels. Suissa shares that he was out of his element – ​​construction is not where his expertise lies. Additionally, the team had a tight deadline, as well as many unexpected pitfalls and obstacles to overcome. But clearly defined deliverables – building six playgrounds in five days for children – helped the team pull together despite the pouring rain and intense heat and humidity.

Overcoming these challenges, says Suissa, has helped him improve his basic leadership and teamwork skills. He describes how acquiring new technical skills in an unpredictable environment developed his flexibility and agility. “Even though I didn’t expect it, it was like a learning ground for us volunteers. With the stakes high and a tight deadline, my teammates and I had to creatively problem solve and let go of pre-established hierarchies in this new environment.

For another PwC employee volunteer, Jack Teuber, the experience meant a change in his environment and the way he operated. He went from being a capable general manager leading a team of experienced adults, to a rookie college professor in a foreign country, working with children and a whole new mixed team of associates and interns.

Teuber understood that his challenge was “to get out of people’s way and encourage them to grow, problem solve and develop their leadership skills”. It helped him develop collaboration and coaching skills. In other words, he and his team have cultivated their abilities to support the success of those who work around him, by building relationships, building empathy, communicating and partnering. These skills are “extremely important in the PwC environment because they help us better serve our clients and be better leaders and team players for our colleagues,” says Teuber.

Finally, he believes the volunteer experience has helped him gain tremendous partnership and networking benefits. According to Teuber, “Team members stay in touch after returning home and we have all developed better access and understanding of other areas of the business, which breaks down barriers, especially hierarchical barriers. Belize affected my self-awareness and made me want to do it for my own team [at home].”

Practical application

While Project Beleize describes a big, generous company that takes on big expenses, the same principles can apply to any volunteer effort. Organizations can start volunteer projects in their local communities (no international flights needed) by sending individual employees or workforce teams to connect with other members of the wider community during volunteer assignments. The learning that has taken place for Project Belize volunteers could happen in your local neighborhood. I hope you will try!

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Low cost employee development provides many additional tools, checklists, self-assessments, and other materials to help you implement the different development methods, review some of the objections you might encounter, and identify ways to overcome difficulties. It is a comprehensive tutorial for all managers, supervisors, trainers, human resources (HR) personnel, coaches and other professionals involved in the effective and profitable development of employee skills.

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