Volunteering: Increase your employability

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Volunteering can have many forms and one of the rather unusual ways of increasing your employability is a new opportunity at Chester University where students pour milk over their head to sponsor the charity MIND.

Volunteering can open a door to a graduate job. Although, it is not a guarantee for a future job, it assists students in gaining the necessary skills for paid employment. A survey carried out by TimeBank through Reed Executive found that 73 per cent of employers would employ a candidate with volunteering experience over one without.

The office for national statistics has found in their latest research from June 2014 that youth employment has fallen between April and June 2014. However, Michael Mercieca, CEO of Young Enterprise said: “We are really pleased that the unemployment numbers are falling, but there are still more young people out of work now than there were before the economic crash in 2008, so there is more that should be done.” He criticises that many young people lack the necessary skills for a graduate job such as communication and teamwork. The academic focus in education is not enough anymore to gain the experience needed for a future job.

This shows an urgent need for students to get involved with extra curricular activities such as work experience, internships and volunteering. Work experience can sometimes be very hard to generate, so volunteering often presents a good alternative. Volunteering gives students the opportunity to work in an area in which they have little or no experience in. Even though volunteering is unpaid and may therefore be seen as difficult to commit to at first, it can actually be very rewarding.

Jake Campbell who works as volunteering systems co-ordinator and visiting lecturer in creative writing at the University of Chester said: “By volunteering you can often ‘test the water’ for a specific industry. It is learning without having to commit full-time to a job in that industry, so that you can ascertain whether or not it will be right for you.” He thinks that volunteering is all about stepping out of your comfort zone and taking on responsibilities that one might not otherwise have to take on. “Mainly, though, I think it says to an employer that you are the type of person who is not afraid of getting stuck in who says yes to things and looks on the bright side.”

The University of Chester offers all sorts of different volunteering opportunities. Level five law student, Alice Finlow, from the University of Chester who takes part in quite a different volunteering and fundraising opportunity known as ’milking’, thinks that volunteering is often much closer to a future job than part-time work. She said about her own volunteering experience: “Milking attracted me initially, because it is something completely different to other fundraising initiatives. Pouring milk over your head is so ridiculous that it means friends and family are keen to sponsor you, but it is great fun to participate in and hilarious to watch. It is very unique, especially as the lecturers are always keen to get involved.”

The special element about “milking” is that it was entirely set up by students. Behind what seems at first like a bit of a fun joke is actually a lot of organisation and event management. It is about making contacts and getting people involved.

Dr Matthew Garrett, lecturer and deputy head of the law school, assisted students when putting their ideas into practice and has helped to organise and structure events since milking has been set up. He said:” Milking it for Money would not exist, if it were not for student interest and the dedication of a small number of students in ensuring it took place. What I think volunteering does is allow students to develop outside of their degree studies. Degree programmes should of course have built within them opportunities for students to develop skills, but these can be reasonably limited and have to be justifiable within a programme. For instance in law, as much as we promote presentation skills both oral and written, we do not necessarily engage students in aspects of events management on the course.”

The background of this project also seems rather unusual. Dr Garrett tells me the whole story about how milking evolved. It started with a joke in a lecture, when he showed a video of some Newcastle students doing milking to his first year contract lecture. He said:“ It was an opportunity to lighten the mood and provide a small break. This discussion caused quite a stir and some amusement. I then received some requests for me to do milking, I foolishly said I would, if a good reason could be found.”

Funnily enough two first year students, Emma Parker and Sophie Bailey, decided to set up a charity event with which they eventually raised £600 for the charity Mind. Emma Parker said: “Our work so far to raise awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues has been greatly successful and we hope for it to be even more so in years to come.” Milking has since been carried out by different lecturers and students and raised another £1500 in the following year.

Other volunteering opportunities supported by the University relate very closely to student’s future jobs like working with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, if you study law or school mentoring, when you undertake a teaching course. Level six Psychology and history student Stefi McMaster has undertaken a number of different volunteering opportunities. She said:” I’ve volunteered in the national waterways museum as an educational assistant which helped me to gain leadership skills, in Cheshire young carers as a youth support leader which helped me to gain a qualification in safeguarding for young people and allowed me to support a brilliant cause.”

Stefi thinks that volunteering can help you gain experience that you would normally never be able to. “If you want a career working with children, you can become a youth leader and gain valuable skills or, if you just need some experience working in an office, you can volunteer in a role which requires this which will make it much easier to gain paid employment in a similar role. ”

In addition to volunteering itself, the University of Chester also offers several awards relating to volunteering including the Volunteering Plus, Gold and Excellence Award, as well as the Chester Difference Award. All of these require you to undertake a certain amount of volunteering hours or taking part in extra curricular activities and writing a reflection on your experience.

This shows that it is definitely worth trying volunteering as an option to gain some work experience.

by Lisa Meller




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