Photograph: Natesh Ramasamy via Flickr CC BY-2.0
Whether you’ve just finished your GCSEs or A-levels and are looking forward to the long summer, or are in between studying and employment, there’s always an opportunity to think about volunteering. You may think that volunteering is just grannies sitting in Oxfam, however there’s far more to.
Volunteering is the commitment of time and energy for the benefit of society and the community. It describes hundreds of different activities that you can do to support others. It is freely undertaken and not for financial gain, and can be formal, or less formal for example through participation and campaigning. As a volunteer you'll give your time to a charity, community group, social enterprise or not-for-profit organisations, and can have an impact on people's lives and the community around you.
Those that volunteer say that it gives them a sense of satisfaction, a broader experience of life, and the opportunity to get to know the local community and feel part of a team. You'll also be able to meet new people from all backgrounds and walks of life, and make friends.
You can fit volunteering around your other commitments depending on the amount of free time you have. The amount of time volunteers are expected to dedicate varies from opportunity to opportunity, and opportunities can be one-offs, part-time or full-time. If you are in work or education, there are also plenty of opportunities to volunteer on the weekend or in the evenings.
Volunteering can also be a great route into employment, whether you are in education or out of work. It enhances your CV and can give you that all important reference. If you are looking for employment, here are a few more specific ways in which volunteering will help:
POSITIVE ATTITUDE - When looking for young people to recruit, an employer's most important criteria is a positive attitude. Whether you are looking for your first job, or applying to college or university, volunteering can show this positive attitude, by demonstrating that you are self-directed, interested in investing in yourself, you are determined, and you have developed self confidence. In an interview situation, volunteering can give you examples to cite to explain how you've dealt with certain situtions, and how your skills have been put to use and enhanced.
SOFT SKILLS - Volunteering also helps you to gain some of those ‘soft skills’ that so many employers talk about. These depend on the volunteering that you are undertaking, but can include personal skills such as self-management, planning and taking responsibility; interpersonal skills such as teamwork, managing relationships, listening and leadership; and an understanding of contemporary issues such as society, other communities and the lives of others, the way in which people live, diversity, and the world of work.
HARD SKILLS - Volunteering also helps you put your hard skills into action. For example, you will have learnt maths and English at school and here you can put them into practice through the writing of emails, the updating of spreadsheets etc. You may also learn a new hard skill, for example becoming a first aider at St Johns Ambulance (over 18s only) means that you’ll gain training and support in first aid, while working in a kitchen means you'll obtain food hygiene qualifications. If you are thinking of entering a specific profession once you leave school or college, you could also think about volunteering in a particular sector to gain experience, for example if you want to be a nurse you might think about volunteering in a local hospice.
ACCREDITATION - There are many programmes which give you recognition for the voluntary work you've done based on the number of hours you work, which you can add to your CV. These include vInspired in England, Saltire Awards in Scotland, Volunteering Wales in Wales and Millennium Volunteer in Northern Ireland. You can also do volunteering as part of a general programme of activities where you gain recognition in the end, for example the Duke of Edinburgh Award.