Researchers from Australian Volunteers International (AVI) and Monash University documented the employability skills developed by Australians who volunteered overseas, and examined how these skills matched the needs of Australian employers.
Interpersonal, communication and teamwork skills, cross-cultural communication, organisational and management skills, problem-solving ability, initiative and resourcefulness were among the key skills developed by returned AVI volunteers.
Australian employer representatives and human resource managers from a wide range of sectors also nominated these skills as highly desirable in potential employees.
AVI CEO Dimity Fifer says numerous studies have shown that the Australian workforce is changing rapidly, becoming more multinational and multicultural.
Consequently, she says there is a high demand for people with skills that are transferable across a range of workplaces and contexts.
Fifer says many employers in the study indicated that while job-specific skills can be taught, it’s these employability skills that are hard to come by.
She says Australians who volunteer overseas develop skills at an accelerated rate, due to the unique challenges and responsibilities of their assignments.
The study also showed that Australian employers were yet to recognise the value of an international volunteer assignment on a candidate’s resume.
The study found that many employers see the word ‘volunteer’ on a candidate’s resume and immediately dismiss the experience as irrelevant to paid work.
In contrast, those employers who were familiar with international volunteers highly valued their skills.
The head of human resources at Insurance Australia Group, Christine Shewry says AVI volunteers have to learn to influence people because otherwise they won’t get things done. The ability to influence is not a soft skill, it’s a tough skill which is hard to learn.
According to Dimity Fifer international volunteering needs to be seen as paid development work, rather than unpaid social service, which is the common image of volunteering at home.
The AVI-Monash study The Right Person for the Job: International Volunteering and the Australian Employment Market is available from www.australianvolunteers.com