Volunteering can develop the skills individuals and organisations need to be fit for the future.” Peter Cheese

Learning and development has never been more important in a world that is changing so fast. The impact of technology on the nature of work and the working environment, and the diversity of our teams and organisations means that we have to almost continuously upskill and reskill. Learning and development thinking and capabilities are also evolving, and eLearning is increasingly enabling much more relevant and impactful learning – collaboration and group learning, embedded learning, and much more self-directed learning.

At the same time, the skills gaps between the world of education and the world of work, not least in the concerns of employability and more soft skills, seems to be growing. These are critically important issues and vital areas of research for the CIPD to help support the HR and L&D professions as well as to influence policy makers and others. As we seek to understand the nature of these skills gaps and the solutions and remedies, one point is clearly emerging that helps to bring together the work of charitable enterprises, the role of volunteering, and the needs of commercial enterprises.

Our research, Volunteering to learn: employee development through community action, finds a clear link between volunteering and learning. Volunteering is often seen through a corporate social responsibility, or CSR, lens, but volunteering can develop the skills individuals and organisations need to be fit for the future. This isn’t just about volunteering being generally good for an individuals’ development. Instead, we’ve found a strong case for volunteering being viewed and utilised as a targeted learning intervention for specific skill gaps or behavioural needs. We found that some organisations are already using volunteering to play a powerful role in developing key skills vital for leadership and management roles, such as coaching, mentoring, communication, creativity, team-building and time management. We also found a powerful impact on building confidence and self-awareness amongst employees, and in helping build the basic employability skills in young people that employers everywhere are focusing on more and more.

For many organisations, particularly smaller ones, the type of experiential learning offered by voluntary action provides an invaluable means of unlocking potential by exploring opportunities for role stretch and career progression that might not be readily capable of being explored within the organisation. It’s a powerful report, and provides a readymade volunteering skills framework for use by anyone interested in better integrating volunteering into learning and development strategies.

This report on the learning premium that can be delivered through effective community action is just one example of the kind of work we’re doing to advance thinking in learning and development. We’re also producing research on the application of neuroscience in L&D, for example, and in understanding the future of learning that can be enabled through innovative use of technology. And as many of you will have seen, we’ve teamed up with Towards Maturity on their L&D benchmarking work, with a view to better understanding the gaps between aspiration and practice, and to helping individuals and organisations to close those gaps.

All of this forms part of our commitment to enhancing our support for L&D professionals. Something that also encompasses a thorough review of our professional qualifications for L&D practitioners to ensure they are as relevant as they can be. This is already well underway, and we’re on track to unveil new qualifications and CPD opportunities early in 2015. We’re also investing to increase our capability to deliver these new CPD opportunities digitally, and we’ve recently established a new Leaders in Learning network to bring together professionals in senior roles in L&D to share knowledge and advance thinking.

Learning and development is critical to the creation of agile and sustainably successful organisations across all sectors. As our research shows, there is a hugely positive mutual benefit to be derived for business and charities, from building community action into learning and development strategies. Networking and sharing learning is so important in all walks of business life, but even more so in our most people focused of all disciplines. We are delighted to support the Charity Learning Consortium – including, for example, the work we are doing together to deliver the CIPD’s first ever MOOC, covering the use of social media and digital working to deliver more effective HR.

I hope you find our latest research and future plans interesting. We look forward to hearing your feedback – and hopefully seeing many of you at our Annual Conference, and some of you at our newly regionalised Leaders in Learning events soon.

To find out more about the Leaders in Learning network please email Andy Lancaster on a.lancaster@cipd.co.uk

Peter Cheese will be presenting at the annual Charity Learning Conference in London on 23 October.

About the author: Peter Cheese joined the CIPD as Chief Executive in July 2012. He spent 30 years working at Accenture, culminating in a 7 year spell as Global Managing Director leading the fi rm’s Talent and Organisation Performance Consulting Practice. After leaving Accenture in 2009, Peter held a portfolio of consulting and non-executive roles. During this time he was also appointed Chairman of the Institute of Leadership and Management, a post he stepped down from on his appointment to the CIPD. Peter sits on the Council of City & Guilds, and he is a European Board Director with Junior Achievement Young Enterprise Europe. He is also an Executive Fellow at the London Business School, associated with the faculties of Strategic Management and Organisational Behaviour. He was voted by HR Magazine as the most infl uential thinker in HR in the UK for 2013.