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Volunteering recruitment and retention rates

Discussion in 'Heritage Railways & Centres in the UK' started by Monkey Magic, Jun 23, 2021.

  1. 30854

    30854 Resident of Nat Pres

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    "Children are a problem" Yes and no. My thinking is, that if such events could be managed in the most child-friendly way humanly possible, the benefits would be twofold (minimum) i.e. get 'em hooked young, plus the non-gricing half of the adult attendance can't help but be impressed at just what a great day out a heritage line can be .... and they're invariably the ones who chat to other parents at the school gate, supermarket, psychiatrists etc. Publicity-wise, what sort of targeted advertising budget are we talking to achieve that?

    Random thought: How many of the lines aren't within an hour or two of an SM&EE branch, with a portable 5in gauge demonstration track?

    The point about online access is both very well made and taken. I agree 100%, it's vital. For visitors generally, developing an 'app' in which you simply scan a valid ticket to access the service would be a big 'plus'. How often have you sat in a pub or restaurant using your mobile data for ages before you spot the notice "Our free WiFi password is g35Xz940ly"? User friendliness is all, these days. Anything which, using minimal resources (and requiring minimal participant effort!) encourages a revisit just has to be welcome.

    Are we going to need a "Getting the best from the net" thread, givng the more IT-savvy of our number a fair chance to shine? Just another random thought.
     
  2. pgbffest

    pgbffest Member

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    To give you an idea for some figures from a small railway in North Wales in terms of footplate numbers

    2017 - 2403 volunteer footplate turns
    2018 - 2582 volunteer footplate turns
    2019 - 2669 volunteer footplate turns

    In terms of Works Days and Shed days it generally works out about 2200 per year (I use the term shed days to describe those on the footplate who aren't productive i.e. trainees).

    We've had an amazing amount of trainees apply since August last year and they weren't allowed on site until relevant relaxation of rules had occurred. The trick to ensure you kept them was communication towards them.

    Up until COVID, I had been generally increasing the footplate side year on year, but I'm now a year or behind in terms of progression which is a bit annoying of course. Some of the older generation have decided to call it a day post lockdown, but we hadn't seen enough trainees through because of COVID. So we are now behind, but, we've got some amazing trainees at the minute who are turning up regular and have the right attitude and ability.
     
  3. Matt37401

    Matt37401 Part of the furniture

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    That is genius.
     
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  4. mdewell

    mdewell Well-Known Member

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    And such people are every bit as valuable as those who do want to be directly involved in operating a railway.

    E.G. I was very impress with the people giving talks about the history of Scruton station (Wensleydale railway). Some of those were not members of the railway, but just local villagers keen to promote their local history. They dress up as people who are known to have existed and come along to the station to talk about the lives of those people and the impact of the railway on the village. It's all part of the show.
     
  5. Dead Sheep

    Dead Sheep New Member

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    When you the vitriol and hatred expressed by the various parties involved on the West Somerset, it makes you question why anyone would join or continue on a heritage railway as a volunteer. I just hope that is an exception rather than the rule.
     
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  6. William Fletcher

    William Fletcher New Member

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    The rule/law for under 16 working is a big cahllenge, I know it is for my kids as we hit brick wall at railway after railway. The kids are keen and not far off 16, but "come back next year" isn't going to cut the mustard for a 15 year old girld desperate to work on steam engines
     
  7. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    I believe it is, and various posters on that thread have made the point that the vitriol doesn't generally trickle down to operational level. But the sad reality is that politics are likely at any volunteer organisation.
     
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  8. gwralatea

    gwralatea Member

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    I actually had it worse than that - my generation was caught in the great insurance tightening up of the early 1990s. I and some friends started at 9 or 10 where we operated a 7.25 inch gauge miniature railway *without supervision* that ran the length of the station site - almost like one of the USSR's pioneer railways. There was an adult there, but we were taking the money, driving (all diesel/petrol), guarding, and disappearing away from the adult for half a mile or so down the line, dealing with derailments, the lot.

    Out of season we helped with general station maintenance, and indeed a couple of construction projects. Then one day, after a few years, someone (rightly) got a bit scared by what was going on* and we were all sent away to come back when we were 14. Two years seems like an age when you're 12, and a lot of them didn't.

    *to be clear though, this set up hadn't been someone freelancing, it was railway sanctioned and all involved had to be junior members, which I think started at 8... mind you, we're going back 30 years here.
     
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  9. gwralatea

    gwralatea Member

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    IME there's usually a failure to recognise that managing volunteers is a different skillset to managing FTEs.
     
  10. toplight

    toplight Well-Known Member

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    I have been a volunteer now for about 22 years, 20 at the Swindon and Cricklade and a few years at the East Lancs and GWSR before that.

    Started almost by chance really. My first visit to the East Lancs, I was on the platform at Bury looking at an Engine and got talking to a volunteer there who offered to show me around the workshops, He spent about 45 mins showing me around Ian Rileys works and the other works at Bury and then asked would I be interested myself to work there as a volunteer ? so I jumped at the chance and as he worked on C and W, I tagged along with him as he was the only person I knew at the start.

    I think this is really important, to identify if a visitor could potentially be a volunteer and then take the time to show them around a bit. Surprising how it can spark their interest.
    With the SCR most members have been volunteers long term, People tend to start, come a few times and then either drop out at that stage or continue on. If they drop out after a few sessions, I don't consider it an issue, they just decide it isn't for them. Nothing gained, nothing lost.

    You need to have a clear idea of what you want to do. Are you aiming to be a driver, or restore something, work on Signals or whatever and then try and stick at that and develop skills and experience in that area.
    Some volunteers can be tied to a particular project. For example there was a team that restored Foremarke Hall from Barry condition at the SCR. When it moved to the GWSR some moved with it, some their loyalty was more with the railway. The guy who for many decades was in charge of its restoration at the SCR, is now in charge of the loco department at Toddington so he moved with the loco.

    Some drop out because they get old and health gets worse, often they start coming less and less until they don't come at all. Occasionally a person will leave because of some argument, but that is very rare. Sometimes a person will move away from the area, but quite often that person may start again at another railway. There is definitely a situation where sometimes volunteers will move from one line to another, or even work at two different ones on different days. Didcot/SCR/GWSR/Dean forest are often competing for the same people.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2021
  11. richards

    richards Well-Known Member

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    The people managing volunteers may not have much people-management experience from their "proper' job.

    Also, some volunteers think they don't need to be managed in their spare time, despite doing a safety-critical job like running or maintaining a heritage railway. Perhaps a lighter touch is needed, but the railway still has responsibilities and needs systems/rules in place.
     
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  12. gwralatea

    gwralatea Member

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    absolutely, although I don't know that it's necessarily lighter touch so much as a just a different approach to get what's needed out of people who don't need to be there.
     
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  13. Kje7812

    Kje7812 Member

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    To me there often seems to be a disconnect between a paid management and on-the-ground volunteers. The more willing upstairs are to be around the actual day-to-day operation, the better.

    I have known some volunteers decide to pack it in if they felt management wasn't appreciating their efforts.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2021
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  14. richards

    richards Well-Known Member

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    The difficulty here is that their "efforts" may seem important to the volunteer, due to their particular interests, but aren't in fact a very high priority for the railway as a whole.

    It can be a difficult job to juggle the benefits of a specific volunteer who may have a valuable operational role (eg. driver/signalman) but also have a particular project they want to promote. That miniature railway they keep wanting to build alongside the car park, or a well-rotted wagon to restore at the end of the siding perhaps?
     
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  15. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    It can, but the important thing is still that the volunteer feels appreciated for the effort even if the objective is to move them onto a higher value project.


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  16. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    Of those new volunteers what is the retention rate? How many drop out in year 1 or by year 5.

    Indeed, for one thing, many volunteers do have the leverage that they are doing management a favour and are aware of it.

    Trust and confidence in management is critical, and as @Kje7812 notes management that is out and about, involved, interacting and listening to volunteers is one way of building that and the sense of being valued and appreciated.

    I'd suggest that community of spirit can be good but it needs to be the right kind of spirit. I have seen some very clique-y railways and as a new volunteer that can be very off putting - you can end up with a sense of 'if your face doesn't fit' and this can push people away lowering retention. You want to have that sense of bond but without it being exclusionary.

    Canteen culture can be toxic at times, if you end up with the wrong people being influential on the group.

    It is a difficult one because there are of course by 16 their interests could have changed. However, I will say that I think it is right. When I was volunteering I witnessed what I now recognise as grooming behaviour by an older male volunteer of an emotionally vulnerable 15-16 year old woman. I think if I knew someone under 18 (or vulnerable adult) were thinking of volunteering I'd want to be sure of the line's safeguarding policies.
     
  17. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    Just picking up on this point, safeguarding duties go beyond protection of under 18s (not just under 16s); that young woman would be just as entitled to proper safeguarding if over 18.

    More generally, safeguarding regimes need to be considered in light of what they are for. If the intention is solely to protect the organisation from youngsters being groomed, then a flat ban on under 18s volunteering might be appropriate. But it will also remove an important path towards volunteering and interest, so limit the potential of the organisation.

    Embracing the requirement - which from experience in a church setting are manageable - and using them to frame how the young can get involved would be a much more sensible approach, showing openness and embedding some good volunteer management protocols in the process.

    I suspect the real challenge in a railway context is insurance and H&S law, where under 16s volunteering may come up against limits on child labour. That is a harder nut to crack, though I’ve seen young volunteer schemes that have navigated it successfully.


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  18. simon

    simon Part of the furniture

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    There is another aspect to this which is how easy do railways (or anywhere else for that matter) make it to volunteer and how welcoming are those who are allocated/volunteer to sign up potential new volunteers. I hate the phrase "on boarding", but how many locations put enough effort into the process of bringing new volunteers on board and in making them feel wanted and continue to volunteer?
     
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  19. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    Had an interesting conversation with someone involved with a mid length line. To cut a long story short, passenger numbers have been good this summer but staffing has been a major issue. Lack of turns last year has meant a lot of re-assessment which takes time and lockdown has resulted in volunteers finding alternative hobbies. So it seems that there is potential for recruitment and retention to become more important over the next few years if the shortfall is maintained.

    I don't know how much this experience is mirrored elsewhere or if this line has been badly hit.
     

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