…So sang Roger Daltrey, and while he wasn’t thinking of volunteering, he may as well have been. For while volunteering often seems simple (especially to those with little understanding of the topic), further examination reveals multiple layers of complexity. This is perhaps nowhere more clear than in the thorny issue of job substitution.
Guidance issued last year by Volunteering England (now part of the NCVO), in partnership with NAVCA and Locality, called on organisations to ensure volunteers ‘complement and supplement’ paid staff, lest volunteering be seen to undermine paid staff jobs.
• The number of people employed by the voluntary sector is increasing, albeit there has been a trend towards more part-time roles. So are volunteers really taking people’s jobs away? It doesn’t look like it.
• Evidence from some services where volunteers now play a bigger role in delivery than before the cuts suggests that the service provided is better suited to client needs. New Cross People’s Library, for example, is now open at lunchtimes when people want to use it, not just at the times the paid staff wanted to work.
• The vast majority of civil society organisations are still staffed entirely by volunteers. No complementing or supplementing here – volunteers are essential to the work of these organisations that make up the bulk of the sector.
Those of you interested in a fuller analysis of the issues surrounding job substitution – or job displacement/replacement as it is more helpfully referred to by those seeking to address the complex subject intelligently – can read my own blog on the topic from last year.
For now I want to reflect on this issue on the context of Volunteers’ Week here in the UK.
With the new slogan of “Time To Say Thank You”, Volunteers’ Week is an important opportunity to thank volunteers for all they do for our organisations and for the wider society. But recognition isn’t just saying thank you, it also carries the meaning of recognising something as important or valid.
When we subjugate volunteering to something that merely ‘complements and supplements’ paid staff we fail to recognise its importance. We fail to recognise how vital volunteers truly are, how without them there would not be paid jobs in the majority of sector organisations, how without volunteers people would literally die.
So this Volunteers’ Week let’s celebrate the unique and distinctive value of volunteers. Let’s afford them the respect they deserve rather than fearing that they are out there to take paid jobs from people.
To that end I will conclude with this accurate observation by the Australian authors of the excellent Volunteer Management – An Essential Guide:
“Volunteer motives vary, but depriving paid workers of an income is not one of them.” – Noble, Rogers and Fryar (2003)
Happy Volunteers’ Week.