Why improving validation in the voluntary sector?
Validation or the “validation of non-formal and informal learning” (VNFIL) is defined at EU level as the process of the identification, documentation, assessment and certification of competences. This definition has been widely shared and adopted since its mention in a Council Recommendation from 2012, which is the key policy document at EU level that recommended Member States to develop VNFIL provisions. During this last decade, EU institutions, national governments and stakeholders have worked together to put in place validation policies and strategies. As a result of this successful transnational cooperation, all EU Member States have now validation arrangements in place to diverse degrees. This allows EU citizens to make their skills visible. VNFIL is highly present in the education and training sector but it remains less developed in the labour market and in the third sector (Study supporting the evaluation of the Council Recommendation on VNFIL, 2020, p.26). In 2018, 20 EU countries had validation arrangements in the third sector (civil society organisations, NGOs and others), where organisations hosting volunteers are largely represented. While this is encouraging, it remains insufficient and those initiatives are still very fragmented.
Volunteering is a learning environment where competences, in particular, the so-called “transversal competences” (also “soft skills” or “transferable skills”) as opposed to “job-specific skills”, are developed and acquired by volunteers from all ages. Transversal competences contribute greatly to the lifelong employability and personal development of individuals. For organisations, validating the skills of volunteers help to improve the quality of their service provisions as well as recruitment and human resource management. In 2019, LLLP published a European State-of-play on validation in the voluntary sector, based on an extensive research including large scale surveys among volunteers and volunteering organisations, which highlighted the many benefits that validation brings to the voluntary sector. LLLP is therefore strongly supporting any initiatives that aim to improve validation in the voluntary sector, and to that end, our NGO has taken part in the Erasmus+ funded project “ImproVal”, which started in 2018.
ImproVal’s goal: “let’s not reinvent the wheel”!
There have been over 20 EU projects dealing with validation in volunteering and while all of them have some truly innovative dimensions, some also have similar planned activities where more synergies could be introduced. For instance, LLLP is a partner in the Job bridge project, which is a project that also covers validation in the voluntary sector, except that it has a specific focus on skills development in volunteering for the labour market. One of the activities foreseen in both Job Bridge and ImproVal was similar, it was about the launch of European surveys on validation tools. In this case, LLLP being involved in the two projects could ensure that the activities were not redundant but complementary instead, but this might not have been a possibility for other projects that were running at different timescales and involving different organisations. Peer learning and networking opportunities like the Validation Festival organised by the European Commission are great opportunities for building a European community around VNFIL, allowing practitioners to meet and exchange. However, those events are scattered in their occurrence in time and do not suffice for continuous and sustained mutual learning and synergies between initiatives.
This justified even more ImproVal’s own moto, “not to reinvent the wheel” as partners were aware of the risk of duplicity between initiatives from EU funding, but also from existing initiatives at national and local levels. To that end, the project partners first worked on elaborating a list of validation tools that are known to be used in the EU. Organisations hosting volunteers can easily find on the project website the tools that are available in their language in order to get information on how it can be used in their context or get inspiration from it to develop their own without starting from scratch. Missing tools from our research can also be added in the list. The second activity of ImproVal consisted in a study on the use of those tools in which we collected answers from volunteers and organisations. The results were instructive in the sense that they give indications on what work best, especially when considering the main factors for implementing validation with volunteers: time and resources!
Showcasing the importance of validation in the voluntary sector
During the lifespan of the project, ImproVal partners organised four Webinars to highlight the need and relevance of validation in volunteering. The first webinar (2019), displayed examples of tools used in the voluntary sector from the Scouts, the Centre for European Volunteering, the Finnish Federation of Settlement Houses as well as the Croatian Volunteer Development Centre. You can watch it here. As the project is coming to its end, another serie of three webinars were organised by LLLP to present the results of the project as well as to invite stakeholders to discuss on the importance of valuing competences in the voluntary sector.
The first two webinars took place on June 16th. In the first Webinar, volunteers and organisations hosting volunteers were invited to reflect on what they have learned through the COVID crisis; volunteers to share their story on the skills they have acquired through volunteering; and organisations on how they adapted to the challenging period. For the second Webinar, LLLP invited special guests from the EESC, and organisations involved in EU initiatives for the validation in volunteering. Among those, the projects Job Bridge and UpVal were presented. The aforementioned results from ImproVal were also presented by the project coordinator, Ok Sivis (Finland). During the third Webinar that took place on July 22nd, policy-makers and stakeholders were invited to comment on the ImproVal policy paper (see below). This was a good opportunity to discuss what can policy-makers do to improve validation in the voluntary sector. The recordings of all three Webinars and presentations can be found on this page.
ImproVal is coming to an end, so what’s next?
The project ImproVal is ending this year and while almost all activities have now been finalised, LLLP as well as the other partners are committed to continue advocating for more and better-quality validation in the voluntary sector. The current crisis shows the crying need for giving more value to the learning that happens in non-formal and informal learning environments as this is an inclusive and innovative solution for enhancing individuals’ personal development as much as for their integration into the labour market.
The EDOS Foundation (partner in ImproVal), collaborated with LLLP for the writing of a policy paper on improving validation in the voluntary sector. We listed recommendations that policy-makers can follow to help recognising the sector’s social and economic impact in terms of learning and competences acquisition. LLLP will continue to monitor and promote the tools that are used in the voluntary sector and will follow-up with the EU institutions on the future of VNFIL in the EU. Besides, several other interesting activities are ongoing or will be launched in the coming months: Job Bridge EU Award competition (ongoing), Job Bridge final conference (early November 2020), and the preparation of a training course for volunteer facilitators (Autumn 2020).
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For more information on LLLP’s work in validation or on those projects, you can contact us at projects [at] lllplatform.eu