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Working towards a joint volunteer strategy
CFA welcomed the external scrutiny of the Jones Inquiry and, in 2011, developed the Jones Inquiry Implementation Action Plan in collaboration with VFBV. Last year we welcomed the Victorian Auditor-General's Office (VAGO) investigation and its Managing Emergency Services Volunteers report was tabled in State Parliament in February 2014.
The VAGO report assessed whether CFA and SES effectively and efficiently manage volunteers. It looked at whether strategic and operational planning is adequate to identify and address volunteer resourcing requirements, including the capacity and capability of the volunteer workforce. The particular focus areas were attraction, recruitment, retention and support as well as the adequacy and effectiveness of training and education and the allocation and use of volunteers including surge capacity.
The report acknowledged that CFA has an overarching support service strategy but we lack a sound understanding of the total number of volunteers we need. We also have limited knowledge of how effective our recruitment methods are because of a lack of performance frameworks.
To quote from the report, "Neither agency can be assured that it has the capacity to respond to incidents when they occur because assessments of current workforce capacity overestimate their emergency response capabilities.
"CFA and SES's decentralised approaches to the recruitment, training and deployment of volunteers mean neither agency can assure itself that these activities are effectively addressing workforce needs. CFA is in the process of implementing programs that aim to address these concerns, however SES's attempts to resolve these issues are presently inadequate."
Furthermore, VAGO recognised that, while CFA volunteers are supported, the reasons members choose to leave are not well understood because we don't currently conduct exit interviews.
A new program management team will focus on implementing recommendations from both the Jones and VAGO reports.
This team will receive strategic advice and direction from a steering committee made up of members from CFA, VFBV and the Department of Justice. The committee will be independently chaired by Dr Heather Wellington who has extensive experience in public administration and community services. Dr Wellington has served as chair of the board of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. She is currently a Surf Coast Shire councillor where she is a strong advocate for efficient service delivery and robust planning for a sustainable future.
Her concerns mesh well with CFA's impetus to continuously improve our services for and support of volunteers.
Against this background, CFA and SES have begun work on a joint volunteer strategy which will incorporate the key themes of the Jones Inquiry and VAGO. A workshop will be convened in the next few weeks involving key stakeholders. Over the next six months there will be extensive consultation with the field to ensure we are thoroughly addressing the recommendations.
This work is vital. Tackling the issues raised in both reports is critical to our long-term sustainability and the safety and protection of Victorian communities.