FROM DIGITALISATION TO PEOPLE SKILLS – EUROPEAN VOLUNTEER COORDINATORS’ AND EXPERTS IDEAS ON FUTURE SKILLS NEEDS
The Future Skills for the Third Sector (FUTUR3) Erasmus+ project set out to map the future skills needs of volunteer coordinators and managers in 10 European countries (Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Turkey and the United Kingdom). The benchmarking process also included discovering best practice examples on training for volunteer coordinators or volunteer management.
Our work has been based on a model of four scenarios, which were developed using partners’ experiences, various megatrend sources and the results of a workshop with Finnish NGO professionals. Our model predicts the following scenarios and related skills needs for the sector:
1 - Status Quo: Third sector organizations will go on as before, but will need to learn to adapt to change. Skills needs: general and project management and securing funding, among others.
2 - Loose communities: Communities are less stable than before making people more nomadic, causing and increasing need to manage episodic volunteers etc. Skills needs: IT skills (databases etc), vision/strategic, networking and interpersonal.
3 - Growing inequalities: These regard, for instance, welfare and migration, and the third sector is required to take more responsibility for service for service provision. Skills need: multiculturalism and understand diversity, interpersonal skills and negotiation.
4 - Technical/digitalization: People want to participate more on line, and new ways of communication and forming communities become evident. Skills need: technical, adaptability, interpersonal and intercultural skills.
The experts we interviewed in each country for this report expect the technical scenario to be the most likely and pressing one in the near future, but on presenting the model to professionals in many countries, it is also evident that all the scenarios will shape the future of the European third sector.
The 485 volunteer coordinators who took part in our survey felt that teamwork, communication, overcoming stereotypes and a non-judgmental approach to people are important skills needs, which further reflects the idea that all scenarios will to some extent be realised in the future, even though many operate under the notion that the status quo scenario will prevail.
We made several observations from the material, mainly on differences in how the third sector is defined and skills needs.
1) There are different legal definitions of the sector and the legal solutions which give the reason for securing the non-profit organizations in public and business activity. However, the sector’s importance as an employer is growing everywhere.
2) Individual countries have a different way how to approach the idea of the professionalization of the NGO sector. We noted clear differences in the educational offer addressed directly to the workforce in the sector. The lack of professionalization often results in a weaker participation of non-governmental sector in the shaping of local strategies and a little political importance.
3) Training needs and qualifications that seem necessary for volunteer coordinators focus on the universal skills related to the management of the volunteers’ work. As the main area of the preferred educational activities respondents specify strengthening of the volunteer commitment and professional management of teamwork. It can be said that professionals in the NGO sector work according to the status quo scenario and they expect the support for their work accordingly.
4) Important skills needs in the context of future skills in the sector are related to international cooperation and the shaping of attitudes of openness to other cultures. It can be assumed that these needs arise from the increasing cultural diversity in Europe. There is also an increasing demand for training in international cooperation and volunteering.
5) We can draw conclusions about the future direction of the development of the sector under the technological scenario. We can expect:
- new types of participation in the sector e.g. through social networks and informal groups on the internet; online volunteering will gain ground.
- the growing importance of modern forms of communication, advertising and methods of managing the non-governmental organization.
- the technological development scenario seems inevitable and requires an acquisition of competencies in dealing with and creating online communication.
Considering the results of this study, we propose the following actions to help the European third sector manage future skills needs:
1 - Advancing digitalization: staff and trustees, as well as volunteers, need ICT skills and to access infrastructure that allow them to communicate from remote locations using mobile technologies.
2 - People come first: Both now and in the future, communication skills, team work and empowering individuals and groups are at the core of volunteer coordinators’ work. With digitalization, the forms may change, but the skills need to be in place.
3 - Migration is a chance for the third sector: Intercultural skills and overcoming stereotypes are and continue to be vital for working with volunteers. The third sector plays an important role in integration, so this is a skills challenge.
4 - Build on diversity: By diversity, we do not only refer to migration, but the ability to work with different age groups, religions, minorities and so on. This requires skills of overcoming stereotypes, sensitivity and communication.
5 - Collaboration in training: We recommend collaboration between civil society organizations, educational institutions, trade unions and professional organizations to establish concrete ways to improve the professional capacities of the third sector workforce.