Jane Rexworthy, Director, People 1st International, offers some insights in making events volunteering work for both the young volunteers and for organisers:
Many events rely on volunteers to function smoothly, and the bigger the event, the more important they are. For example, much of the success of the 2012 London Olympics was thanks to an army of 70,000 volunteers at the Games’ 34 separate venues who, between them, contributed eight million hours of time.
Attracting and training young volunteers effectively is therefore an important part of the event planning process. For volunteers, the attraction goes beyond the event itself. Getting involved is also a great way to build fundamental life skills such as communication, team working, problem solving and customer-facing skills.
While high-profile events can attract a lot of applicants, not all of them will be suited to the role. So, the first question to ask is whether they are actually interested in that type of event because motivation isn’t a problem if people want to be there and want to be part of an event’s success. Beyond that, desirable traits include reliability, commitment, willingness to take instruction, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Conferences and exhibitions may be much less high-profile than major sporting events, but they can be attractive for students who are studying related topics at local colleges or universities. In each case, however, it’s important to help volunteers understand how they can make the most of the experience and then apply what they have learned to their career development.
What does volunteering entail?
For organisers, it’s essential to be open and frank about what volunteering will entail. Yes, events can be fun, but they’re often fast-paced and pressurised and the overall experience can be quite demanding. Be clear about what is expected from volunteers and what training will they will receive.
The practical elements of what volunteers have signed-up for are also important. Have they thought about transport to and from the venue? If the event involves unsociable hours (e.g late nights), can they get home safely? Are they committed to spending time on orientation and preparation prior to the event?
When delivering pre-event training, ensure that you cater for short attention spans and make the sessions interactive, fun and practical.
In our company’s WorldHost training programme, we walk students through the customer journey using interactive team games so that they can better understand the expectations of customers at each touch point of their journey. We bring this to life by asking them to write a short ‘code of conduct’ outlining how they think team members should behave, or what they would do if a TV crew turned up to shoot a fly on the wall documentary.
Feedback is another important element of the process – both from the event organisers and from customers – so that volunteers can understand the value of their contribution, as well as start to think about how they will distil and transfer what they have learned to their careers or studies.
In conclusion, it’s worth remembering that while volunteer work can simply be a rite of passage for many young people, there will also be talented individuals who decide to stay and to carve out a career in the sector. By investing in effective training and development, organisers will have first dibs at offering them a first foot on the career ladder in event management. Likewise, by offering volunteers recognised and credible training, event organisers are boosting their own brands as good employers, and that’s never a bad thing.
Photo of Jane Rexworthy ©John Cassidy The Headshot Guy®