Despite all the talk of a fresh political landscape and the dawning of a new era of government by coalition, here we are again with a majority government. And perhaps it's a measure of how little things really change in British politics that in the run up to this month's General Election the Prime Minister rattled the ghostly chains of the Big Society. Post-election, he declared, amendments would be made to the Working Time regulations to entitle employees to three days' paid volunteering leave.
The response from the Opposition was predictably contemptuous with Yvette Cooper dismissing it as an unaffordable £1bn gimmick:
"If half the nurses in the NHS took this up, the NHS would need 2,000 more nurses to cover the rotas. The police would need 800 police to cover the rotas. Who's going to pay for them?"
And private sector voices were also alarmed, the Institute of Directors warning:
"the architects of this idea cannot pretend that forcing firms to give an additional three days of paid leave will do anything other than add costs."
Of course, one of the other factors gnawing at the bottom line of organisations is low productivity, something HR Director magazine attributes in part to ineffective development of soft skills
And what do we know about volunteering? That's right, it can provide a perfect context for soft skills development. The problem is this development is almost invariably left to chance, seldom integrated into other learning and development (L&D) structures and processes. Obvious things such as behaviour frameworks, 360° assessments and professional development plans. It's even more rarely evaluated for impact on the business.
This month the CIPD published its Annual Learning and Development Report. It contains a key observation from HR and L&D professionals invited to review the survey's findings:
"Networking can be one of the best ways of developing L&D capability - there is great value in building connections with those who can both share insight and challenge your thinking."
Well, here's an idea. How about L&D and corporate social responsibility professionals start that process by working in coalition with themselves. This way they could maximize the return on their organisations' investments in volunteering by intentionally and measurably developing their employees' skills for networking and a great deal besides.
In last month's edition of the Journal of The National Institute for Career Education and Counselling colleagues and I published a paper which indicates how much more can be achieved for both community participants and employees by taking an approach that positions the latter not as "volunteers" but as "co-learners".
As our paper makes clear, this takes clarity of purpose, planning and commitment to the integrity of the learning process. But we believe that's a good investment. Isn't it really time we had a fresh learning landscape?