Dancers at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Have your say on volunteers

Rebecca Atkinson, 15.11.2010
Whether you're a volunteer or a paid member of staff, have your say on the issues surrounding volunteers and vote in our poll


Are volunteers a threat to paid staff?


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20.04.2011, 15:52
Volunteers are a direct threat to paid staff ... They also make mistakes and take away precious staff time to supervise them.

Volunteers do not stay long in the position - as all think they are getting a permanent post by volunteering - and leave after a few months after getting disillushioned.

Volunteers often do not turn up in time - and can't be relied on to complete a job.

Volunteers undermine paid staff - as they do the same job for no money that paid staff have spent years gaining qualifications to do.

Volunteers are often not ideal for the job ... being from priveleged backgrounds - low waged individuals are shut out as posts do not pay anything.
09.12.2010, 20:27
Well manager volunteers should never be a threat to paid positions. Every volunteer should have a position description and a set of achieveable performance measures, just like a paid employee - but their roles must never be the same. If they were that would certainly be exploitation, and then yes there would be potential for voluntary workers to take over paid positions.
09.12.2010, 08:53
Volunteers can be an asset and a complete mill stone around a managers neck. The latter is usually due to the recruiting staff having little or no life experience outside an academic environment. My work involves me working in a variety of museums and sites of historical interest and the naivety of many of the paid employees never fails to amaze me. The lack of social skills and managerial experience means that the site can be led by the volunteers who in some cases are there for no their reason than to fill their day and socialise. Many use the opportunity to try and exercise some influence over the management of the site although they have little to no experience. In the worst cases a volunteer rises to a position of authority either pushing out a paid employee or filling a role that would have been taken by one. This circumstance is a product of bad management higher up the ladder who see the volunteer a cheap resource or do not see the difficult situation the previous paid person was in. So as a threat the blade is double sided but this is only the case where poor management is in place.
On the flip side volunteers can be the foundation blocks of a site. Many have vast amounts of knowledge related to specific subjects and bring common sense and life experience to an environment that is managed by individuals who have been cocooned in a university and museum environment. The jobs the volunteers take on are essential and yet little to no funding is allocated to them. I‘ve seen a situation where a full management meeting item was whether to buy a new kettle for the volunteers rest room!
Volunteers are only a threat if there is bad management. Unfortunately it often the case where you are considered to be a good manager purely because you have a degree. If that was in common sense or social experience I would agree.
08.12.2010, 22:34
The arts already suffer from an 'elitist' tag. Just as raising tuition fees will see people from poorer back grounds (or, in fact any average bill payer) pushed away from art schools, people who can afford to volunteer are pushing skilled workers away from the industry.
02.12.2010, 12:06
The question as posed for the poll is very simplistic. Yes, some volunteer posts are definitely a threat to the existence of paid posts. But most volunteering probably is not a threat, and would actually need a paid manager to manage the volunteers as part of their job.
01.12.2010, 15:13
Are volunteers a threat? No.
Even in a perfect world where all museums were properly funded, there would be a place for the enthusiastic amateur. They can be the heart and sole of a venue, especially where smaller independent museums are concerned.
My own experience (both as a volunteer myself almost 20 years ago and as a curator) is that unpaid staff tend to do work that is not a priority, and would therefore not get done otherwise. The benefit is that it leaves the paid staff time to deliver the frontline services.
To put it another way, if volunteering was banned tomorrow, there wouldn't be a sudden rush of new jobs. The work would simply not be done.
MA Member
25.11.2010, 10:19
To the person who states "Volunteers are career burglars and need mothering"- how blind can you be? It is an incredibly offensive and ignorant comment (I imagine that that is why you remained anonymous). Without volunteers many museums would close. I volunteer 1 day a week, unpaid and have just as much right to my position as you do. You can not get a paid job without experience, and the sector would fail without the help of people like me. Should I give up my career dreams because your career is more important? "Career-burglars?". Pathetic.
MA Member, MJ Subscriber
23.11.2010, 20:38
I have been unemployed for three months having worked within a curatorial department for the past four years, paid, Most recently as the curator of a high profile museum. My contract was a maternity cover contract and I have been unable to find paid employment since the summer due to the cut backs and lack of opportunities at the moment. I have applied for around 16 paid jobs. I want paid work because like everyone else I have bills, council tax and a student loan to pay off. To keep me active and to get me out of the house, I volunteer one day a week. I don't view my volunteering as a threat to anyones paid work because I only see it as a temporary arrangement. Being out of work, one day feels like the next and as a passionate curator, it keeps me positive and gets me out of bed on a gloomy, dark morning. Due to the cuts, unfortunately, there will be more professionals like me. Volunteering for the same reason. I have three degrees and seven years paid museum experience in total. My choices are to sit it out and remain passionate about the sector or with my skills and experience I find something else. I believe I have something more to offer the sector, I am 30 years old and aspire to be a museum director one day. I understand the fears, as i'm living through the nightmare but I remain positive. Big society? Volunteers? All I ask is that people see the bigger picture.
MA Member
21.11.2010, 13:27
Spending time volunteering is the only way to gain experience in the sector and is essential for securing future employment. Having a Museum Studies Post Grad qualification, international museum experience, I am unable to secure an entry level position here in the UK. Being a volunteer keeps me more up-to-date with news and trends in the sector. Yes, volunteers are a threat to paid staff but what other choice do we have if we want to be successful in the our preferred career?

How about certain galleries and museum continually offering SIX month internships, full time hours, paying nothing. Those are full time jobs and perhaps the spotlight should shine on this issue. In my case, working 6 hours every fortnight, does not pose a threat or undermind the profession, but these long term unpaid internships do. The more people who are willing to work in this way, the worse it makes the situation for the rest of us who are financially unable to.
19.11.2010, 15:59
Getting rid of volunteers wouldn't suddenly free up hundreds of positions for qualified heritage professionals; many museums would simply close without them.

This isn't a very helpfully framed question. The fact is that there isn't enough money to go around and if museums had to pay for vital work done by volunteers they might not be able to afford other expenditures--such as conservation and new exhibitions.

The way the heritage industry values its volunteers and paid workers is skewed so that the latter are suspicious of the former, whilst volunteers feel they are undercutting their future selves because it is impossible to get work in this sector without volunteering first.

Many volunteers have at least an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject, and there are many postgraduates working for free. If the industry didn't suffer so badly from qualification inflation, there would not be so many people desperate for unpaid work.
18.11.2010, 14:51
Volunteers are career-burglars. They should only make tea and sell tickets. Not having a postgraduate qualification they need mothering.
MA Member
18.11.2010, 12:28
Museums may value help from volunteers, but volunteers need guidance from paid professional staff,museums must have continuity which is not necessarily guaranteed from reliance on volunteers.For the last 2 years I have been a volunteer in a museum without a curator. A new person has been in post for a month and the volunteers show visible relief and have a spring in their step.
Perforce there is a backlog of necessary work, for the curator to undertake as well as understanding the needs of the organisation and the skills and availabilty of the volunteers, many of whom are ageing.