People Management: Three minutes with Ruth Allen, Volunteer Development Agency

What is the new course you are launching? It's a certificate in the effective management of volunteers, which we will run jointly with the Institute of Lifelong Learning at Queen's University, Belfast, starting in September. It will be set to national standards. We ran a shorter course with the University of Ulster a few years ago, but volunteer managers told us they wanted more progression and recognition of their level of work.

Is it time-consuming? It requires two full days a month so people can explore issues in more depth than they could in the evenings, when they are at their worst. There is also a two-day residential course at the start, so your employer needs to be fully supportive of your decision to take part.

What other training exists for volunteer managers? There's quite a lot of training available for those who are new to the profession, but not for those who already have experience. It is often seen as just another branch of management, yet it entails a very different set of skills.

What will people learn on the course? It will be a practical course consisting of workshops rather than just traditional lectures, and will look at designing management policies and handling difficult situations such as turning down volunteers or asking them to leave without the parameters of a contract.

How can managers avoid disputes with volunteers? It is very rare for a volunteer to go to a tribunal unless they feel they have been treated badly. All policies regarding volunteers should be clear and communicated at an early stage, with a formal complaints procedure also laid out so the process is transparent.

What are the other benefits of the course? We have already got an established manager of volunteers forum - a peer support network for people to share their experiences - and all course applicants can join. Volunteer managers often feel isolated because they are the only people in their organisations in that role.

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