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Online training: improving efficiency for not-for-profits

3 min read

In times of economic uncertainty, charities, associations and community groups need to be more conscientious than ever in managing resources and optimising productivity. With volunteers and human capital at the centre of most not-for-profit (NFP) organisations, training is often considered to be an area where significant cost savings can be achieved.

Peak bodies warn, however, that cutting costs in this area is often done at the expense of quality training for volunteers.

The value of quality training

According to the National Volunteering Skills Centre, the value and necessity of quality training for volunteers is widely accepted.

Training is seen to provide long-term benefits to NFPs, which include reducing volunteer turnover, increasing loyalty, and improving morale and work performance.

The integration of flexible and innovative learning practices can reduce time and cost barriers associated with volunteer training and enhance the quality of training outcomes at the same time.

The benefits of e-learning

Since 2008, the Australian Flexible Learning Framework (the Framework) has supported the development of e-learning solutions in the vocational education and training (VET) system through the E-learning Innovations program.

The Framework is an Australian Government initiative that responds to the challenges of a modern economy and the training needs of Australian businesses and workers by providing a VET system within an e-learning infrastructure.

The initiative funds and supports registered training organisations (RTOs) across Australia, including NFPs, to assist them in embedding e-learning as a key part of their business strategy.

The following case studies are examples of how not-for-profits around Australia have benefited from online training.

Lifeline Hobart

In 2008, with Framework funding and support, Lifeline Hobart introduced an e-portfolio system (a learner-driven collection of digital objects demonstrating experiences, achievements and evidence of learning), through which volunteers record and collect ‘naturally occurring’ evidence of their competency in taking crisis calls. The system reduces the time required to recognise volunteer competence, from 40–60 hours per volunteer to less than four hours.

A national training program for telephone counsellors also uses e-learning, combined with face-to-face training and in-service practice, allowing volunteers to acquire nationally-accredited training in a flexible environment, and ensuring consistency of training across the network. The system allows volunteers to complete training and assessment with online flexibility, even completing tasks from home.

According to Lifeline Hobart Chief Executive Officer, Christopher John, the benefits of embedding flexible training practices in NFPs can extend beyond cost savings and increased productivity.

“Flexible access to quality training, whether it is 24-hour access, weekend access or online access, has become a major drawcard for the volunteering population, as many need to fit their volunteering schedule around existing commitments,” John said.

“Accessibility increases the ‘volunteer friendliness’ of NFPs, and is an increasingly popular way of attracting and retaining a strong volunteer base.”

Surf Life Saving Western Australia

In 2008, Surf Life Saving Western Australia (SLSWA) used E-learning Innovations funding to develop an online assessment system for its Certificate II in Public Safety (Aquatic Rescue).

Following the system’s successful launch, SLSWA has this year received further funding to make updates and to extend the system to include online, self-paced delivery of theoretical units. Online training is coupled with practical skills training and face-to-face assessment.

Project Manager John King, said that the resource has helped the SLSWA to overcome common barriers to training in the surf life saving industry such as geographic distance and time constraints amongst trainers and volunteers.

He said that the high-risk nature of surf life saving places a strong significance on the quality of training, and that using e-learning has made it easier to ensure learning content is in line with the Australian Quality Framework (the national framework of education qualifications) and organisational standards.

City of Marion

Similarly, the City of Marion local government council in South Australia introduced a blended induction program, which significantly improved the quality of training for its community and neighbourhood housing centre volunteers.

The ease with which induction information can be organised and presented in an online environment (as opposed to a paper-based environment) has helped to assure volunteers of a structured, up-to-date and high-quality induction program, by ensuring that each volunteer has all the information they need to be effective in their roles.

The online induction program gives volunteers the opportunity for accreditation and a pathway to further study – sometimes for the first time in their lives – adding to the appeal of the community centre as a volunteer organisation.

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