Saturday, 27 February 2010


I’ve had a crash course in understanding volunteering in recent weeks, since joining the voluntary sector last year. I should say re-joining, as I had a spell of seven years in the sector early in my career, except that I didn’t really learn about volunteering, as I have been recently.

In the current issue of Management Today, the Chief Executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Stuart Etherington, contributes the opinion column, and writes earnestly over a full page about voluntary organisations and charities, but completely omits to mention volunteers or volunteering. Surely this is what the sector is all about?
My current responsibilities include managing (and co-delivering and assessing) a range of SQA-accredited courses in the management of volunteers and volunteering. This has given me greater insight into how we manage people in all organisations: if we consider the motivation of those whose work is unpaid, I believe we get closer to understanding what motivates paid workers too.

We all do things we don’t get paid for at some time or other (even in our jobs). We do them because we want to, because we benefit from them in some way, and because often they’re the right things to do. We don’t always recognise these things as volunteering, but perhaps that’s at least partly because even some representatives of the voluntary sector are missing the point.

I’d love to read comments from others in the sector who recognise what I’m describing. And for everyone else, I can recommend Essential Volunteer Management by Steven McCurley and Richard Lynch.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Silver Jubilee

This year is my twenty-fifth year working in learning and development. I started my first job as a Training Officer (for the Glasgow Council for Voluntary Service) in April 1985; I undertook my first certificated trainer-training course from 1985 to 86; and I took out membership of the Institute of Training and Development (one of the forerunners of CIPD) in January 1986.

So I’m designating this year as my silver jubilee celebration!

This gives me an excuse to recall some of the key developments of my 25 years in this career. Like…

E-learning. Having specialised in open, flexible and distance learning, I should have been better prepared than most for the advent in the 1990s of e-learning, which essentially enabled these approaches with digital technology. But, like many people, I took a while to grasp the full scope of what the new technologies could offer. I find many people still see e-learning as just online distance learning, which is a shame, as it means we’re only scratching the surface of what may be accomplished.

Corporate universities. Despite having been around for more than 50 years, this remains a misunderstood concept. The corporate university, or academy, became popular in the USA in the 90s, and in the UK and Europe in the past decade, but is still poorly communicated. For me, it’s the most significant strategic tool we have, and fits well with the broader use of e-learning.

Talent management. This has become an important idea in HR, but many still associate it mainly with recruitment, and the ‘War for Talent’, when equally important are the applications of key talent development and succession planning. Again, I believe this is something we have yet to make the most of.

Of course, there have been many other big ideas. One which has not fared so well over the last ten years is knowledge management, which in the late 90s seemed set to be perhaps the biggest idea of all. But I suspect we haven’t heard the last of it, and I predict it will re-surface in a new form over the next ten years.

Many of us are working to older retirement dates now, but I doubt I’ll be active in learning and development for another 25 years – perhaps another 15. However long it is, I hope I find as much variety and career satisfaction as I have so far. Thanks to all those I’ve worked with along the way, and please feel free to comment!