Volunteering for teens
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Is volunteering work experience? Yes, it definitely counts. It requires little previous experience and gives you the flexibility to fit it around your studies, making it ideal for under 18s as well as being something you can continue if you go to university. There are opportunities in more career areas than you might expect. Whether you choose to volunteer regularly or occasionally, read on for advice about how to find voluntary work and get the most out of it.
Voluntary work allows you to ‘give something back’ by dedicating your time to a good cause, but there are plenty of other reasons to volunteer.
Just like other forms of work experience, volunteering gives you skills and experiences that can be included on any future applications you make for jobs, apprenticeships or university. It allows you to sample a new sector or role without any commitment to carry on if you don’t enjoy it. For example, you can find out whether you work better in a team or on your own, or in a large organisation or a small one. You might also gain commercial awareness by learning about how the organisation makes money and its different business areas – even if it’s a charity or in the public sector.
What’s more, voluntary work is generally easier to get than other work experience because it requires you to have fewer existing skills and the application processes are much less competitive than for paid work or formal work experience placements.
Voluntary work doesn’t have to be relevant to your career ambitions; whatever you do will increase your confidence and develop skills that you’ll use in any career. However, it is especially useful if you have a particular career path in mind, or are deciding between a few.
- Charity and public service is an obvious career area in which there are lots of volunteering opportunities, such as selling donated items in a charity shop or setting up fundraising events. If you’re interested in joining the police, you can volunteer as a police cadet.
- Volunteering in a hospital would be ideal experience to help you get onto a medical or nursing degree.
- You could volunteer at an animal shelter if you want to work with animals, or help run the Summer Reading Challenge at your local library if you’re interested in working with children.
- If you want a career in publishing, volunteering in a public library or charity bookshop would be ideal as it allows you to familiarise yourself with different genres and authors outside of your usual reading material.
- If you think you might want to work in hospitality and tourism, volunteering at the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) will give you experience of welcoming guests, serving food and typical housekeeping tasks.
- Writing blogs, helping with social media or designing posters for an organisation you’re passionate about provides you with great experience in journalism, marketing or public relations.
If you’d like to start volunteering but don’t have a clear idea of what you might enjoy, use a mind map to generate ideas before narrowing it down. Start by listing any hobbies or interests you have. For example, if you have a favourite sport you might be able to help coach the younger members of your local club. If you’re interested in art or history, a museum might suit you. If you love being outdoors you could help with conservation in a national park or nature reserve.
Another factor to consider when choosing a volunteering opportunity is how much time it requires and where it is based. Do you want to help out around your local community or get the chance to travel further afield? Many organisations provide travel expenses to volunteers, and some residential opportunities will give you free accommodation and/or meals.
- A regular commitment (eg every Saturday afternoon) is a good way to volunteer near to where you live. Fitting volunteering around other extracurricular activities and your school work will improve your time management in addition to the skills you’ll pick up from the volunteering itself.
- You might want to volunteer for a longer block of time, such as in the school holidays. This can be either locally or staying away from home in a different location in the UK; there are also some programmes offering opportunities for under 18s to volunteer abroad.
- Voluntary work can also be a rewarding way to spend your gap year after leaving school, whether you choose to do a placement abroad or something closer to home.
- Some opportunities are not exclusively a regular commitment or a long, one-off block of time. For example, the National Trust, RSPB and YHA all offer a mixture of one-day volunteer events, regular volunteer roles and residential opportunities.
There are a number of places you can find volunteering opportunities, depending on what sort you’re looking for:
- the websites for Step Up To Serve, Do-it and Volunteering Matters
- local newspapers and notice boards
- the websites of any organisations you’re interested in
- websites of organised schemes that involve volunteering, such as National Citizen Service or the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
There may be opportunities for you to volunteer at your school, such as helping younger students with maths or spelling, or running an extracurricular activity for them. Some sixth forms require students to take part in an ‘enrichment’ activity each week from a selection that often includes volunteering.
If you don’t see an advertised opportunity that interests you, there’s no harm in asking an organisation if it has any vacancies available. Either pop in (if it’s a customer-facing organisation such as a charity shop), phone, email or contact the organisation on social media – whichever method you’re most comfortable with. Even if it is not actively looking for volunteers, it may be grateful for the extra help. Don’t be put off if the answer is no; the organisation might not currently be able to provide training for a new starter.
There’s no law against under 16s volunteering but it is sometimes not covered by an organisation’s insurance policy, and some volunteering roles are unsuitable for under 18s. However, if you’re too young for one role there may be another that is suitable.
Does volunteer work count as work experience in applications?
Absolutely; volunteering is as valuable as other work-related experience. Make sure you keep a record of your volunteer experience so that you’ll be able to emphasise the benefits of volunteering work on your CV and in any future applications for apprenticeships or university.
Noting down what you gain from volunteering will make it easier for you when the time comes to begin an application, and help you remember more detail in case you’re asked about your volunteering at an interview. Find out more here about making the most of work experience.
Make a note of any transferable skills from volunteering (such as communication skills or problem-solving) that you develop, as well as:
- any positions of responsibility, such as training new volunteers
- achievements that you’re especially proud of, such as overcoming a personal weakness
- any examples of you being creative or innovative, such as suggesting a new way of doing things and putting it into practice
- things that have strengthened your commercial awareness and familiarity with being in a workplace, such as attending strategy meetings or volunteer conferences.
The more specific your examples, the easier it will be to convince recruiters that you have what they’re looking for. Georgina Naylor is a graduate manager at the law firm Irwin Mitchell, which offers apprenticeships for school leavers as well as jobs for those who have a degree. She told us: ‘Voluntary work can make your application stand out as it allows you to use a range of examples to evidence your skills. We don’t have to rely on what you would do in a certain situation; you can detail what you did do!’
Where you include volunteer work on your CV is up to you. You might put it in a general ‘work experience’ section, or as a separate ‘volunteering’ section. If you have some experience that is relevant to a particular career (eg media) you could make that a separate section (eg ‘media experience’) and divide your volunteering up accordingly.
You can either list what you learn from volunteering next to the details of what the placement was or have a separate ‘skills’ section on your CV where you list the skills you have developed in all aspects of your life and briefly note which experience(s) have helped you to develop each one.
Gillian Smith, the campaign director at volunteering charity Step Up To Serve, comments: ‘Involvement in social action can provide brilliant examples of when you have developed your skills. On your CV, write up your social action as you would a job or internship; don’t hide it away – be proud of it!’
We asked some young volunteers about their experience of volunteering, what they learned from it and how it has helped or will help them stand out in applications. Here’s what they had to say.
- Cara, aged 16, has previously volunteered for the animal charity Blue Cross in one of its shops. She told us: ‘I learned to organise my time and how to interact with people of all different ages and backgrounds – both staff and customers. I’m quite shy so I was a bit nervous at first about asking questions, but it really is the best way to learn!’ Cara is hoping to get a summer job after she finishes her GCSEs and thinks her experience of volunteering will give her confidence when it comes to applying because she’s now had a taste of the working world.
- Rachael, a Loughborough University graduate, helped out with a fundraising fashion show run by the British Heart Foundation while she was in sixth form. ‘It helped give my university personal statement an extra dimension and made me more human, so to speak,’ she told us. ‘It showed universities that I’d get involved with other activities at university, beyond getting my degree.’ Rachael went on to take part in other volunteer projects, such as painting a canal lock and litter-picking, while at Loughborough.
- Emily volunteered at an Oxfam bookshop while studying at the University of York, and comments: ‘I most enjoyed sorting, pricing and shelving the books (which is what I expected) but serving customers at the till was the aspect that increased my confidence the most. While volunteering should be fun, taking opportunities to step out of your comfort zone a bit will show you what you’re capable of and make the experience more rewarding.’