Training your volunteers is one of the most important tasks that a contact centre has. When this is done well your volunteers feel confident and equipped when engaging with families and they feel empowered to practice in ways that are professional and meaningful to the children and families that you support. Providing training that is high quality and meaningful will contribute towards your volunteers feeling valued and having a sense of being important. As charitable organisations there is little in the way of reward that we can offer volunteers, yet they offer us so much. Therefore, investing heavily in the things that matter and come without cost takes on a whole new level of importance.

“With such a diverse network of centres NACCC’s training modules will have more resonance in some areas than in others…”

NACCC has ten training modules to be delivered to your volunteers over a three-yearly cycle, except for Safeguarding that is an annual requirement. Work will be forever ongoing to improve and revise the training modules but from time to time we do receive negative feedback regarding some aspects of the programme. However, as the Service Development Manager I have been given an invaluable opportunity to understand this on a whole different level. Firstly, it is important to consider that the NACCC Training modules are written for contact centres across Northern Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Mann, the Channel Isles and England. Each one of these centres will be run with a slightly different purpose, with different focuses and priorities and most importantly the families that access your centres will be different depending upon the nature of the community that your contact centre is located. When writing the training modules NACCC does its upmost to consider this diversity and where possible to ensure that it is reflected. The very nature of this is that some content will be more meaningful or have more resonance in some areas than in others.

The NACCC Training Modules will forever be under review and we will continually seek to improve and develop them. However, as you will no doubt know from your own experiences of training, the best learning experiences do not usually come from trainers that read from curriculums or whom deliver information verbatim. However, great learning opportunities do come from trainers that are able to be creative with providing learning opportunities, they come from trainers that are able to use reflective opportunities to promote and develop learning and most of all they come from trainers whom are able to make training sessions fun and engaging. Therefore, I would strongly promote that centres are creative about how you make training meaningful to your volunteers.

“Have a flexible approach – do not read verbatim…”

The second point to make in relation to the training modules written by NACCC (and any other training being delivered) is that this will always be best when a flexible approach is taken to the delivery. Please do not read out our training modules and class that as training. The NACCC Training Modules are a SKELETON, a framework, a baseline, a starting point (etc) for you to add to and build upon. Own the modules, make them your own, volunteers will be able to relate to the child who cried every session or the parent that was rude every week and they will have feelings and emotions linked to this. Use this emotional energy to support their learning through reflection around those events, how they were managed and how they might be managed differently next time. They stand much more chance of learning from something that is meaningful than they will trying to remember cold data, like statistics. 

When considering delivering a training session, if you genuinely want your volunteers to get the most from the process, it might be worth thinking about their learning style. Understanding the learning styles of others might help you to consider what to include in your training session. 

“Your volunteers and staff may have different learning styles…”

Most people can tell you how they best learn, you might have even noticed for yourself that some of your volunteers are avid readers and others prefer to be hands-on and learn from experience. Why not reflect this in your training plan? If you wanted too you could complete a ‘Learning Styles Questionnaire’ with your volunteers. People are often interested in the results that come from this, however, you only need to do this if this is of interest to you. Its not an essential part of the process. Many Social Workers will automatically think of Honey and Mumford (1986) and this questionnaire is easy to complete and widely recognised but there are several freely available and easy to find with a quick google search. It is important to recognise that people’s learning styles will change and develop, depending on the task, the learner or with the passing of time. Learning styles are fluid and groups of people are likely to see the benefit when a range of learning styles are complimented. The most commonly accepted learning styles are (in no particular order):

  1. Visual – You prefer to see images or diagrams to help you learn and to support you to understand something.
  2. Social – You may prefer learning as part of a group and / or explaining your learning to a group.
  3. Verbal – You like words, maybe you learn from speeches, or you like using words yourself. This may be written or verbal.
  4. Solitary – You like to work / learn alone. This may include quiet learning and self-directed study.
  5. Auditory – You learn best by listening and hearing. You may like to use sounds, rhymes or music to help you retain and learn information.
  6. Kinaesthetic – You learn by doing, you might act things out, like role plays, learn by doing or touching.
  7. Logical – You learn best when you can see the logic, when things have reason or pattern. Systems and sequences make sense to you.

How to deliver the perfect training session

  1. Do your introductory work, particularly if the volunteers are outside of their usual centre. (Where are the toilets, where can they smoke, when will the breaks be, what are the arrangements for tea and coffee, can they keep their phones on???).
  2. Let your volunteers know what the training will cover at the start of the session. If there are any areas that people might find emotionally difficult draw their attention to this and explain how they should manage self-care.
  3. At the end of the session or at other pertinent points, tell the volunteers what you just told them, conclude important points as a summary. Repetition that is used well will help your volunteers to retain the more important parts of the session you are delivering.
  4. If you plan to use videos or YouTube for example tell the volunteers what they will see in the video. This guides them when watching the video clip and will help them to remember the pertinent parts.
  5. Make the training as hands on as possible. Learning is complimented by the learners being able to use all their senses and by experimenting within the safety of a learning environment.
  6. Don’t be afraid to have a test or quiz at the end, or at other pertinent points. Make this fun, no one is suggesting you should record test results, or name and shame. It is known that people learn better when they know they will be tested on their learning.
  7. Involve your volunteers in the delivery of the session. For example, ask participants to share their experiences with the training topic. Many volunteers are experienced professional personnel who have valuable information to contribute. All trainees will get more out of sessions by hearing about their peer’s experiences with the subject and not just the trainer’s discussion points. Hearing different voices also keeps sessions varied and interesting. Structure interaction time into all your sessions.
  8. When taking questions about a subject from a volunteer repeat the question asked, to the group. This allows the whole group to hear the question and learn from the answer. It may also save you answering the same question 4 times.
  9. Training sessions need to be kept focused. At the start of the session you will have told the volunteers when the end and when the breaks will be. Try and stick with this, this will keep them fresh and promote their interest in future engagement.
  10. Gather feedback, what went well, what didn’t. Use this when planning future sessions.

I hope this article is helpful. If you have any queries or feedback regarding your centre’s training programme please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Phil Coleman, NACCC Service Development Manager

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