28 August 2019 (3-minute read)
Training is important for both. It’s enjoyable because they learn together as a team; and rewarding because it develops the individual skills they use to help local people. A national survey in 2016 reported 90% of Citizens Advice volunteers found their experience positive. I hope this article shows how we organise training and why we take it so seriously.
Helen Miller is Training Manager at Citizens Advice Reigate and Banstead.
Our Training Policy
Our role as advisers and support staff is to be ready to help clients ‘whoever they are, whatever their problem’ . So we must keep up-to-date on the common causes of problems (such as official policies, community or family difficulties) and how to help people find the best way forward.
Fortunately, we have great support. We belong to the national Citizens Advice network (see below). But we’re also grateful to many local services and charities who work with us day-to-day and support our training.
We tailor training for advisers to the different stages of their ‘career’ with us. New colleagues spend around 6 months learning our values, how the office works and the skills needed for triage interviews with clients. Trainees are integrated team members from the start. There are regular one-to-one training sessions but they soon find everyone is happy to help when they begin ‘learning by doing’.
Once trainees have some experience of drop-in sessions and telephone advice, more detailed training prepares them for full advice sessions. There are also opportunities to specialise in different areas for those who want to do so.
Whatever an individual’s role, we all participate in ongoing training. Our clients and funders rightly expect us to be on top of changing social issues. Some activities mean individual online learning. Others are in groups, including regular office meetings and twice-yearly District Training Days. At group events we invite other organisations to lead discussion. Recent guests have included Reigate & Banstead Borough Council, St Peter’s House, Mary Frances Trust, Surrey Welfare Rights Unit, Divorce and Separation Centre.
District Training Days
District Days have a special place in the training calendar. For much of our training we are in office-based groups. On District Days everyone comes together and traditions have been created! One most valued is a plentiful supply of French croissants and pastries donated by our generous colleague John who always manages a just-in-time delivery. As well as sessions on current issues and briefings from local partners, District Days build team spirit and mutual support.
CARBS Training Commitment
We want our training, like our work, to be enjoyable and rewarding. Above all, we want people to feel confident and supported. In 2016 we underlined this in a formal statement, the CARBS Training Commitment:
To ensure all volunteer advisers enhance their skills and knowledge, know how to give advice effectively, and feel confident to help clients solve problems and lead happier lives.
In practice this is a two-way thing: it is essential everyone understand what’s involved. However I’m happy to say almost everyone who joins says they like being treated as a professional (and of course the work does come with a flexible 1- or 2-day week). It means we get excellent volunteers who always want to do their best for clients.
Responses: What People Say
Citizens Advice Network
Being a member of the Citizens Advice network gives us access to comprehensive training resources at the click of a mouse. There are self-study courses on everything from Arrears and Attendance Allowance to Universal Credit and the Witness Service. The network also offers courses for the various Citizens Advice roles, including specialist advisers, office supervisors, administrators and research and campaigns teams. Anyone volunteering with Citizens Advice can be sure to get the information and guidance they need.
Our volunteer service depends on regular recruitment of local people willing to give time to helping their neighbours. Yes, they want to enhance their own skills and knowledge, but their main satisfaction is in helping others. Training makes this possible. So when someone asks us why they should consider being a CARBS volunteer, we say:
“You will help people with problems find a way forward. You will join a friendly team of like-minded people who make a difference in society. You will even influence public policy by adding your case notes to the national network record. And you will be trained: to give advice but also improve your understanding of your community and fellow human beings.”