What Makes a Volunteering Role Suitable?

It is no secret that in order to get the most out of people in their job, you need to find someone to fit the job description. You wouldn’t invite a history graduate to speak at a nuclear physics conference, and you wouldn’t send a fisherman to fight a fire. Why not? Because they aren’t suited to the role. You wouldn’t expect a history graduate to be an expert in nuclear physics or a fisherman to be able to respond effectively as a member of the emergency services. Everyone has a specific skills set. These might be skills gained academically, such as numeracy skills; they might be natural talents, such as musicality; or they might be skills gained through practicing, such as the ability to type 40 words per minute. But each skills set is unique to every individual.

Volunteering can be enjoyable for everyone...

Volunteering can be enjoyable for everyone…

At JVN, we regularly perpetuate the notion that everyone can volunteer: young or old, rich or poor, able or disabled – everyone can give the gift of time. But with everyone having a different skills set, the time that everyone can or should give will be different. Setting aside for the moment that some people claim (genuinely or not) that they have very little or no time to give, some people’s skills may mean that the organisation can only find a long-term way of using them, and some people’s skills are valued more than others by different people and organisations, whether because the organisation particularly needs someone with those skills or because the skills of that person are particularly rare or proficient.

A problem arises when we start to generalise about people who are “more able” and “less able”, or “disabled”. An ongoing JVN survey of charitable organisations – any organisations that have not yet taken part can do so here – has revealed, so far, 32.5 per cent of respondents believe that they had no roles suitable for volunteers with extra support needs. So what are these extra support needs? A previous question identified five key types of people who might require extra support in their volunteering: disabled people; people with learning disabilities; people with mental health issues; people recovering from addiction; and people with criminal convictions. These five types of people would, you would reasonably think, have different extra support needs. And if we took just one group – say, people with learning disabilities – it is clear that, within the group, there will be a range of the extent of the needs depending on the individual and the role they are being asked to do.

... and organisation and volunteer alike can be left smiling.

… and organisation and volunteer alike can be left smiling.

It is apparent that, before we ask for additional help from outside sources to help us create “suitable roles” in order to engage volunteers with additional support needs – as 58.8 per cent of respondents have asked of JVN – we first need to be clear on what a “suitable role” for someone with extra support needs would actually look like. Is it true that someone who we perceive to have special needs might be able to fulfil a role that already exists? We should not under any circumstances simply assume that a physically disabled person who is a wheelchair user is any less capable than an able-bodied person in performing an administrative job at a computer. Assuming that the building where the organisation with the vacancy works is wheelchair accessible (as is increasingly the case nowadays), and provided that there is someone else in the office to perhaps open a door or reach something off a shelf (a likely scenario), there is very little reason why a wheelchair user could not perform such a job for such an organisation. It is also possible that a job deemed too complex for someone with learning difficulties could be made “suitable” for that person simply by breaking it down, or by having someone present with them to supervise and answer questions they may have (this is often the case even with people without additional support needs).

Many scenarios where someone with additional support needs can be accommodated in an existing volunteering role simply requires looking at the volunteer on an individual level. Too often it is assumed that, when someone ticks the box entitled “I require additional support needs” (or something similar) on their application form, it automatically means that they are unemployable in that role or that employing them will simply create extra hassle. And this is a false assumption. Just like any other individual applying for a role, those who claim to have additional support needs should be taken on their individual merits, not as part of a category labelled “disabled” or “unsuited” to the job. What makes a volunteering role suitable for someone depends on whether they have the skills required for the job. And it is often the case that, with volunteer roles, the skills needed are little more than a willingness to give one’s time and an enthusiastic approach. One view that was typical of disabled volunteers quoted in a government survey in 2006 is that “Volunteering to me is part of my life… I feel I should give something back to the community” – and this is perhaps enough for many volunteering roles. And if the role does require something else, it is not necessarily right to ask whether someone has the necessary skills. At JVN we also show that volunteering has a great potential to teach us valuable skills. A more appropriate question might be whether that person is prepared to learn the skills the role requires.

It is possible that the role may have to be adjusted to suit the volunteer. But it is equally likely that the attitude of the employer towards the “suitability” of a particular job for a particular candidate with extra support needs, not the job itself, might need to change.

If you are a member of an organisation that has not yet taken part in the JVN survey, please click here to do so.

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Categories: Volunteering Perspectives

Author:Mike

Hi, I'm Mike, JVN's Youth Co-ordinator and blogger. I'll be blogging about all sorts of issues affecting the volunteering community, with a particular focus on how recent developments might affect the UK Jewish community's volunteers. I'm always interested to read the comments you make. If you have something you want to see in the JVN blog, e-mail me at mike@jvn.org.uk and I'll be happy to talk. And if you're inspired by any of my blogs to volunteer, log on to www.jvn.org.uk and register to find your perfect volunteering opportunity.

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  1. The Right to Volunteer | The Jewish Volunteering Network Blog - February 15, 2013

    […] wrote a blog a few weeks ago entitled ‘What Makes A Volunteering Role Suitable’, highlighting the need to change our attitudes towards the ‘suitability’ of a candidate for a […]

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