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Volunteering has a traditionally high value in Austrian society, and has as such always been an asset in job applications. In its efforts to further promote volunteering, the Austrian government has sought to formally recognise the skills acquired through volunteering in order to further strenghten their value for formal career paths.
Volunteer passport (Freiwilligenpass)
For volunteering, a certificate that is recognized in the formal labour market has been established in 2005. The Austrian Volunteer Passport issued by the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protectiondocuments voluntary activities and specifies all acquired skills in detail. This offers benefits in the world of work.
This passport was primarily targeted at young people, in order to promote the recognition of their voluntary engagement and to encourage the idea that it 'pays off' to be a volunteer. The passport allows volunteers to document their voluntary engagement throughout their lives. The introduction of the passport was also intended to encourage employers to hire employees who are engaged in a voluntary activity. The passport not only provides information on the type and duration of the volunteering that has been completed but also documents the skills and competencies acquired by the person during the course of this work. According to studies, employers appreciate the voluntary pass and both the Austrian Economic Chambers and the Austrian Employment Service recommend to have this voluntary passport issued as a proof of qualification. The passport is a mere tool to present qualifications, volunteers do not receive formal ECTS/ECVET.
Digital volunteer passport
In parallel to the previous form of proof of voluntary activities and the Austrian volunteer passport, proof of voluntary activities and the volunteer passport are now also available in digital form. The digital volunteer passport and proof of voluntary activities are a web application, whereby volunteers and organisations get in touch to collectively record the activities and acquired skills of the volunteers in a digital proof or passport. The digital volunteer pass is therefore a supplement to the existing analog volunteer pass. With the digital volunteer passport, the organisations can issue their work certificates for volunteers in electronic form. The digital volunteer pass is available at www.freiwilligenpass.at and can be used via e-ID (citizen card) or cell phone signature.
With the digital volunteer pass, organisations and volunteers can now jointly create the previously analogous evidence of volunteering, regardless of time and location, and automatically summarize it in their personal digital volunteer pass. Registered and activated organisations or associations receive a 'checked' seal from the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection. This is to ensure the authenticity and transparency of the organisations or associations, and to make it more secure to issue evidence of voluntary work, which in the future will only be possible for registered organisations or associations.
Moreover, annually the Volunteers Award is given for all kinds of voluntary activities, not just in the youth field. The winners of the awards are presented on the website www.freiwilligenweb.at.
WIK:I – What I can do through informal learning (Was ich kann durch informelles Lernen)
In further addition to the (digital) Volunteer Passport, WIK:I allows young people to collate and present their informally acquired skills. The focus lies on informal learning among peers, at leisure, within their families, in sports, in their voluntary and/or honorary activities, in their hobbies, in the context of jobs, etc. The WIK:I method is a guided self-assessment for young people.
Qualified WIK:I portfolio counsellors assist the young people in systematically documenting their informal learning experiences. Starting with collecting and describing personally significant activities ('what I do'), young people are eventually able to identify and describe the skills they gained in the process ('what I can do'). The description of skills is always linked to specific activities ('I can do this because …'). The benefit of compiling a portfolio is that young people gain an awareness of their informally acquired skills and a sense of direction for their subsequent education and career planning. Above all, it empowers them when they are required to describe and present their skills (e.g. in the context of job interviews).
The principles of the WIK:I method
- to focus on strengths and resources,
- to promote empowerment and initiative,
- to encourage self-reflection,
- to focus on dialogue and group processes (peer learning) as well as a biographical approach to learning.