The panel was introduced by Ms. Gabriella Civico (Director of the European Volunteer Centre, CEV) who talked about the promotion and development of employability via voluntary engagement. It was noted that in many cases, the special form of voluntary engagement (full-time voluntary service) takes place during the transition from school to further and higher educational opportunities or employment, and can be within a specific legal framework different to those relevant for free-time and part-time volunteering opportunities. These forms of voluntary service opportunities are intended to accelerate the personal, social, civic, educational and vocational development of young people. The learning outcomes of such experiences can greatly enhance the employability of those who participate whether as a result of formal, non-formal or informal learning.
The frame of the panel was set by the Keynote speaker, Ms. Gisela Jakob (Professor for Theories of Social Work in the Department of Social Work of the Darmstad University of Applied Sciences) who presented the involvement of Germany within the Long Term Volunteering. The definition of Long Term Volunteering was created in 1964 and saw immediately a huge involvement of volunteers. She highlighted that when the military service was no more mandatory, volunteering for young people was considered a valuable option; so Volunteering Service increasingly expanded and was affected by a huge development concerning its structure in order to deal with the increasing participation of young people.
In the present situation of Long Term Volunteering in Germany there are three kinds of volunteering: 1) Youth Voluntary Service regulated by law (Organized by NGOs, Voluntary Social Year, International Voluntary Service) 2) Other youth volunteering programs (eg. European Voluntary Service/ European Solidarity Corps) 3) Federal Voluntary Service (organized by the state authority). Ms. Jakob exposed the view that the Federal Voluntary Service has a negative aspect such as the State access to the volunteer services and the civil society, causing sometimes interferences with the work of the Civil Society Organizations. Indeed, the relationship between State and Civil Society is crucial in order to assure the development of voluntary service. For this reason, Ms Jakob suggested to keep in mind that if the state is involved, it wants also to regulate and control and this goes a bit against the basis of the voluntary nature of organizations and the way that they organize the voluntary service and collaborate between themselves. However, Ms. Jacob also noted that the Voluntary Service is a possible way to establish a strong and fruitful balance between the two actors; it is possible to find a connection between commitment and education (both areas touching and crucial for the work of the State and of Civil Society organizations): volunteers assume responsibilities for the society, they get committed in different areas and they are also involved into the development of policies and processes; their education should not only be vocational but also part of a broader plan.
Mr. Marcello Mariuzzo (President of the Alliance of European Voluntary Service Organisations) talked on the motivation and benefits for developing and implementing full time, long term volunteering opportunities for young people. He explained that Alliance network is an International Non-Governmental Youth Organization that represents national organizations which promote intercultural education, understanding and peace through voluntary service. Their workcamps program is addressed to young people (group of 10-20 volunteers) from different countries who, during two or three weeks bring new ideas and experiences into isolated communities (remote areas, in regions where local people may have minimal opportunity for meeting others from different countries), providing a stimulus for ongoing work, active citizenship and intercultural learning. He answered a question from the audience regarding the recognition of competences in order to be evaluated in their professional career; he explained that from his point of view the key is developing capacities and providing useful tools to volunteers that allow them share the experience and competencies acquired during the camp.
The conference also had the chance to analyze the role of Long Term Volunteering through the example of the Civic Service Agency in France, that facilitates volunteering opportunities both in France and abroad. Mr. Yannick Blanc (President of the Civic Service Agency – France) stated that the unemployment rate pushes young people closer to volunteering opportunities, the example is the Civil Service: it is not a job, but very important for the future career of young people in order to acquire knowledge and experience; it is a way for young people to fight unemployment while doing something good and valuable for the others, their society and themselves. Particularly the Civil Service offers the opportunity to go abroad but, however, according to the 2016 analysis results, young people applying to Civil Service had to overcome two obstacles: first, only 2% of the 92000 volunteers of that year wanted to go abroad because organizations were looking for high skilled volunteers and, second, the incapacity of young people with less opportunities to even be selected. Mr. Blanc underlined that after this analysis, different methods were implemented in collaboration with the EC in order to include those young people having less opportunities, trying to overcome the majority of obstacles young people face in being involved in such kind of opportunities.
The audience asked about the role of CSOs and Mr. Blanc answered that there is a commitment of CSOs in order to guarantee the comprehensive education, assuring valuable experiences where solidarity is the basis and the goal of the Civil Service. Indeed, thanks to the full time voluntary service, it is possible to see an increasing level of civic education, of the perception of active citizenship of volunteers and society involved and of the validation of skills acquired during the voluntary service period through non-formal and informal learning processes (NFIL).
What about the top-down approach to the organization of volunteerism? why not have a bottom-up approach and let civil society to organize the volunteering actions? Mr. Anton Hörting (Head of Department, Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection, Austria) offered the example of the “Voluntary social year” a state-funded voluntary programme based on the bottom-up process. In the recent period the State has felt the urgency to guarantee a concrete legal basis, including family and social benefits and for this reason it was created the Austrian Voluntary Act, where the work conditions of volunteers are regulated. The Voluntary Act has positive effects because defines the voluntary service as training relationship, giving the advantage that volunteers know what to expect and young people become more active, having received a clear explanation about the deployment framework. It has also caused an increasing involvement into the voluntary service: 90% of the volunteers are very satisfied with their experiences and the number of volunteers has doubled: more than 1000 people has been involved in 2017. According to Mr. Hörting, it is necessary to foster the willingness to further develop the Act by increasing the dialogue between state and service providers.
Finally, the participants got to know a bit more about the European Solidarity Corps (ESC) initiative. Mr. Jimmy Jamar (member of the European Solidarity Corps Coordination Team, European Commission) explained the timeline of the ESC (the European Commission launched the initiative in December 2016 and the legal basis will be delivered at the beginning of 2018), and the hope that it will be able to contribute to providing solutions to the issue of the increasing number of unemployed young people willing to be part of Europe and combining solidarity activities with the existing youth programs. The ESC offers in-country and abroad experiences, above all considering that only 6% of young people had the opportunity to do a volunteering experience abroad and it is addressed specially to young people with fewer opportunities.
During the panel three Long Term Volunteers had the opportunity to share their experiences and the participants were able to answer to some questions through the conference app.