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Viewpoint: Valuing volunteers

The ICE’s Malcolm Jackson says Voluntary work within the Institution reveals surprising economic and altruistic power.

A recent government survey indicated that nearly threequarters of adults in the UK participate at least once a year in some form of volunteer activity.

It also found that 27% of the population undertake formal volunteering at least once a month, giving unpaid help through groups, clubs or organisations.

The government invests around £400M per annum in supporting volunteering in the public sector and estimates a notional economic return on volunteer output of £12bn, a cost:benefit investment ratio of 1:30.

The ICE is heavily reliant on the support of volunteers, its active members, to deliver its vision and core purpose.

The 2010 - 2015 strategic review estimated that over 6,000 members actively engage in some form of voluntary activity to support the Institution.

“The ICE is heavily reliant on the support of volunteers, its active members, to deliver its vision and core purpose.”

This number undoubtedly includes double counting with some individuals undertaking multiple roles. It still represents an amazing amount of good will and economic value. I recently read that Oxfam has 6,000 paid staff and 20,000 volunteers.

Whilst being very different organisations, with perhaps different roles for volunteers, it is interesting that ICE has just over 200 staff.

Volunteering touches every aspect of the ICE’s delivery, from formal governance on Council, committees and panels to offering support as experts.

This is mirrored across all regions where there is a tremendous amount of volunteer support. Perhaps less visible, but equally vital, is mentoring graduates through the roles of Supervising Civil Engineers and Delegated Engineers, and in support of the public voice strand, as experts providing input to policy or in media engagement.

The list goes on and includes Ambassadors in schools and support in judging of regional Awards.

“Involvement gives personal satisfaction, individually or the whole profession, from the knowledge that volunteers have made a difference.”

With so much goodwill and reliance on volunteers, is there a danger that it is taken for granted? The simple fact is that the ICE couldn’t deliver its vision without this support. I certainly know this to be fact in the East Midlands and I am continually indebted to volunteers and their work.

The ICE does have two medals that formally recognise active member contributions: the Garth Watson medal and Warren medal - two recent recipients from the East Midlands being William Kemp and Adrian Coy.

Yet it could be argued that the time and dedication of members as well as their employers, who allow them time to be involved, is not sufficiently publicly acknowledged on an ongoing basis.

However, the previously quoted survey suggests that the motivation for volunteering is not to receive plaudits, but the desire to improve things or help people.

Involvement gives personal satisfaction from the knowledge that volunteers have made a difference, perhaps to an individual colleague, to the civil engineering profession or to society as a whole.

It can also make a valuable contribution to individual’s CPD. New volunteers are always welcomed in any capacity.

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