Even though it is unanimously recognised that volunteers acquire skills and competences through their volunteering activities and various validation tools have already been created, non-formal and informal learning accomplishments are still seldom recognised in formal education or the labour market. Therefore, a study has been conducted to discover whether and how volunteers and voluntary organisations have been able to use the outcomes of validation. In order to address this issue, the project Improving Validation in the Voluntary Sector (ImproVal) has been established.
On the basis of questionnaires for volunteers and organisations and expert interviews, several advantages and deficiencies concerning the use of validation tools have been identified. It was found for example that volunteers and voluntary organisations struggle with the identification of and self-reflection on their competences. Other factors such as a lack of time hinder the uptake of validation practices both from the organisational and volunteer perspectives.
The study also contributed to find that the reasons for using the tools differ strongly and can even appear contradictory. While volunteers predominantly start using validation tools in order to increase their employability, only very few of the organisations mentioned combating unemployment as a reason for implementing the tool. Validation is undertaken by volunteers for personal and professional development (empowerment, motivation, employability), which in return benefit the organisation (recruitment and retention of volunteers, and reputation). Futhermore, the processes for the implementation of validation differ strongly from one tool to another. This results in a lack of comparability and constitutes a major obstacle for the recognition of skills and competences at multilevel (local, national and European).
In order to fully integrate the validation of non-formal and informal learning in the society and the economy, an increased effort and willingness to recognize gained skills during voluntary work will be necessary. Possible recommendations thus are for example standardizing the outcomes of the validation tools, raising awareness on the availability, use and benefits of validation tools, investing in trainings for tutors, mentors, counsellors, assessors, and facilitators of volunteers and emphasising the value of digital recognition methods.
ImproVal is a European project, involving partners from five European countries (FI, NL, BE, DE, SK). The project aims to provide a synthesis of the work undertaken in the EU on the validation of volunteering experience. It will do so by bringing together the coordinators of a number of previous validation projects, making the methods, tools and thinking behind validation of learning in the voluntary sector known through a validation Compendium, conducting a study on the usefulness of validation for volunteers, and by encouraging a dialogue between relevant stakeholders locally, nationally and at European level.