Hazel Broad, Deputy Director of Reading Voluntary Action talks about how RVA uses Classmarker to assess the proficiency of potential admin volunteers applying for roles on their team.
Tell us a bit about yourself. (Your job, organisation, and your technical ability!)
Reading Voluntary Action is a council for voluntary service and volunteer centre rolled into one. We provide a full range of advice services to the voluntary sector including governance and legal, volunteer management, funding, business planning etc. My role at RVA includes leading on our IT and communications work, including the development of our volunteering portal RGneeds.me. I joined RVA 5 years ago as an enthusiastic user of IT for admin, project management and comms, had experience of using a complex online database and had also done a bit of content work on websites etc. Since then I've continued to add to my skills.
Why did you look for this tool in the first place? What did you need help with?
In 2011 we launched our own bespoke online volunteer matching service for local individuals and local groups and it highlighted the fact that we needed different help than our existing volunteers could provide. We set about recruiting extra help and decided that as part of the process we needed a proficiency test that would help us check out the basic skills of candidates and identify the types of task to which each would be better suited, and what they would enjoy. Clearly it was also important to identify candidates who would require more support than we could offer and help them towards alternative volunteering with us or another organisation.
How did you find out about the tool?
It was our tech adviser who identified Classmarker from a piece of online research and when we tested it out it worked well for what we needed.
What is this tool mainly used for?
So far we have only used it for the admin proficiency test, which is designed to check basic admin and web skills which are critical to certain volunteer roles at RVA. The system helps highlight candidates' strengths and weaknesses, so we can tailor work and support accordingly. We devised a test that covers a range of skills in 3 basic sections - finding information online, spotting mistakes in content and accurately inputting information. The test is timed, so we know how quickly as well as how accurately it has been performed. If the volunteer has things they want to learn, we can assess how well we can support that. If we know a task needs someone good at finding information online, or someone with a high level of inputting accuracy, we can allocate work accordingly.
What do YOU use it for?
In my role it is important for me to promote the use of the tool as a key part of our recruitment and ensure that the questions are kept current (web research questions go out of date very quickly!).
What have been the benefits of using this tool?
It may sound like a fairly radical thing to test potential volunteers, but like everyone else they want to be successful and we don't want to provide opportunities for failure (or put our service at risk). In fact feedback has been very positive - volunteers say it makes them more confident, having their skills affirmed in this way, and shows that their skills are valued and respected by us. We now have an exceptional team of admin volunteers in place who have a wide range of skills and preferences that we can draw on. Not only are the volunteers helping us with this core work and keeping things on the road, but as hoped for originally, their strengths and interests also help us identify other achievable pieces of work that would benefit the organisation and our service users. We also know we have developed a sound process for recruiting new volunteers when team-members move on, which they do, usually to take up paid employment.
Is there any cost attached to using this tool?
There's a basic free service for non-profit organisations (doesn't email results but does most of the rest). We use a full service 'credit pack' that handles up to 50 test entries for the year and we can change the questions or build a new test anytime. Costs $25 pa - about £17
Are there any online tutorials available?
The Classmarker site has a range of pages. For example this is the basic tutorial for devising a test: http://www.classmarker.com/misc/vid.php?vid=2
Did this tool need much of your or a colleague’s time to set up at the beginning?
It's not the simplest thing to set up but there is good explanation on the site and it is worth putting in the effort. Devising the test is a separate piece of thinking to setting up the Classmarker account and test itself, and that's always going to require an investment of time and thought or it wouldn't get you the tailored benefits you want. On the upside, just be checking the freshness of the questions on web research from time to time, we've been able to use the same basic piece of work a couple of dozen times so far.
Are there any limitations to using this tool?
We haven't come across any pitfalls. If you opt for the free version, you do have to check candidates' results online rather than getting them to your inbox.
Do you have any top tips for using this tool?
1. Test out your test on colleagues who should be able to do it. This will show up any wrinkles. 2. Can't emphasise enough the need to make sure you keep the questions up to date and don't ask things for which the answers can no longer be found or have changed.
Do you have any other recommendations of digital tools you use, and what you use them for?
We are very into using low-cost or free digital tools to help run our operation, like wufoo, mailchimp, google apps and google analytics etc right down to an online graphics button maker. There's a full run-down about what we use and what we use it for at https://www.sites.google.com/a/rva.org.uk/rva-resources/using-online-tools - the relevant page of our online resources site which provides information and guidance for our service users.