Siobhan: Quality Volunteering
Last week I read an interesting article on the Third Sector blog written by Kaye Wiggins ‘What’s better for job seekers – Poundland or Quality Volunteering?’ In it Kaye discusses mandatory work placements and compares these with quality volunteering opportunities. She highlighted the recent case of Cait Reilly who I mentioned last time as receiving criticism for her comments regarding her mandatory work placement at Poundland. Cait was forced to postpone her volunteering at a museum while carrying out her 2 week placement.
Volunteering is an important part of the community, especially in the current climate of budget cuts and reduced access to funding. My internship involves working in the third sector with organisations to help minimise the impact of this. I see the valuable work that volunteers contribute to organisations on a regular basis and I see the benefits they get from it as well. It is an opportunity to gain hands on experience while benefitting the community at the same time.
Yet Cait was told to stop her volunteering so she could work in Poundland, experience which is arguably unlikely to assist her in finding a job in the area she wants to work in. I believe in the value of mandatory work placements for long term unemployed. I think it provides people who have been out with the labour market for a long time with useful experience and, perhaps more importantly, routine. I don’t believe however, that it has much value for a recent graduate who is gaining more relevant experience for her career aspirations volunteering. There is a wealth of volunteering opportunities out there for graduates, in roles where they could have significant impact and gain appropriate experience for themselves. Some of these opportunities they may not even be aware exist. Small grassroots organisations have such a variety of needs – business plans, fundraising, marketing, events organisation, policy development, volunteer management, legal structures – and could really benefit from having a volunteer graduate in helping in these roles. Unlike so many unpaid internships, volunteering is on your time. You decide when, where, how. It allows you to have a much more appropriate balance in your life and it feels good to contribute to something worthwhile rather than to an organisation or company, who could afford to pay you, but don’t.
There is a worrying trend of graduate bashing lately. Cait wanted to continue using her time productively but she was criticised for being arrogant, snobbish and petulant for not wanting to work in Poundland. Graduates aren’t snobs, they aren’t arrogant. Or at least, those that are, didn’t become that way as a by-product of being a graduate. It is about aspirations and getting the results for the hard work put in. Contrary to the opinion presented of students, the vast majority worked hard to get to university and they worked hard while at university, both academically and in the labour market or volunteering. Many pay to go on and study for a Masters to enhance their CV further, others undertake unpaid internships at their own expense to gain experience. Graduates just want a job where they use the skills they worked to obtain, yet quite often are made to feel ashamed of this. A lack of entry level graduate jobs is a serious problem. As unpaid internships become increasingly the norm, for those who can’t afford them it becomes harder and harder to break in to certain industries. Have we returned to a time when what job you do is inextricably linked with how well off a background you come from? Are career aspirations a privilege of the wealthy?
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