Skills gaps still present a major barrier for small local charities and community organisations across the UK, with more training still cited as a solution to the problem. However, one size will not fit all and so the challenge for umbrella support bodies, who provide training, is to flex their delivery models to meet the needs of small and local charities and community groups. We must offer a blended learning experience meeting the needs of those who live in well-connected urban centres to those who live and work in rural settings, to respond to the requirements of paid staff and the differing requirements of volunteers, and to those who prefer or require distance learning to those who seek face to face support.
Over the past ten years the FSI has provided face to face training through the provision of one day and half day training and conference places. The demand for this type of training has not diminished, indeed it has grown. However over the past 18 months we have been testing other methods of delivery, including short webinars tailored to be delivered as breakfast or lunchtime learning sessions and longer webinars, another addition to our learning experience, mirroring one and a half hour face to face workshops. These additions, along with short five minute video learning opportunities and an expansion of on-line toolkits, have added to our one day and half day training and conference places, which now provide small, local charities and community groups with a full blend of learning opportunities that meet the needs of a wider audience of learners.
The additions to our menu of learning experiences are a direct result of the findings in the FSI’s Skills Survey. We have adapted our offer to accommodate those charities that cited time issues, such as difficulty in taking time out of the office or away from service delivery, as a barrier to developing skills.
This year’s respondents to our fourth biennial survey continued to call for increased training provision, not only for paid staff but also for volunteers. With 40% of respondents citing volunteers as one of the solutions to address skills gaps, it is increasingly important that training opportunities are opened up to volunteers. The increased demand for training can be viewed as a response to the unprecedented increase in demand for services, with small charities reporting an 81% increase from June 2013 to November 2016.
We are at the beginning of what will be one of the most eventful times in recent history as, for better or for worse, we set out to leave the EU. We must not be distracted, we must continue to focus on delivering the highest quality support to our beneficiaries, even at a time when many charities are being asked to take on an ever expanding role in the delivery of public services. If we are to meet these challenges and remain focussed on our beneficiaries, we need to ensure that both staff and volunteers are well equipped. When staff and volunteers are trained, supported and have access to advice, they are able to do their jobs well, they feel confident and that in itself improves the way they support their charity’s beneficiaries.
We hope that this survey continues to leverage and influence the government and other funders to support the development of skills across the sector. It is only with an informed and skilled workforce, both staff and volunteers, that charities will become self-sustaining. It is only with a vibrant, diverse and self-sustaining sector that civil society will truly meet the demands of the future.