10th July 2020
Volunteering and Gaining Employment
Abbie Johns, Volunteer Administrator
“You are an employer of one of the largest organisations in the UK. An organisation that each year recruits only the very best graduates as employees. You have 2 CVs in front of you: in terms of grades, they are more or less identical candidates, but one of them has volunteered; they have developed skills, experience and networks that can help them as an employee.”
Which one would you choose?
Well, “90% of employers said that volunteering can have a positive effect on career progression” (V, 2008).
Volunteering can have so many benefits as an extra-curricular activity for both yourself and the community you volunteer in. Volunteering has been routinely advocated by the UK government as a key mechanism to secure employment. Given the current economy, and the current job market, this has never been more important.
Volunteering can offer participants the chance to develop new skills, extend networks, build CV’s and gain experience in areas new or important to them.
The area in which one chooses to volunteer doesn’t necessarily have to be directly related to their career aspirations. If, for example, a student wanted to work in the Youth sector after graduating, experience within this field would be beneficial, but volunteering in other areas could also develop their transferable employment skills. Volunteering in any area can build softer skills such as team work and communication; skills which are often viewed as important in the development of “work attitudes and behaviours” when employers are looking to recruit. Employers place great value on the skills that volunteering can enhance – such as teamwork, confidence and self-motivation – and graduates who highlight any voluntary work they have done will give themselves an edge over other candidates. It is important to volunteer in an area important or passionate to you, as it will make it easier to discuss in a CV or interview.
Those who hide their volunteering under a bushel risk missing out on the best jobs, as employers change the way they recruit too. As the competition for top talent grows, employers are increasingly moving away from recruiting for specific jobs, and instead seeking individuals with the relevant passion and enthusiasm that align with their company culture. So, for employers the real value of volunteering lies not just in the simple fact of having done voluntary work, but in the skills and traits that it helps to develop.
Regular volunteering (weekly or monthly) can benefit employment as this shows a commitment to a cause. It is crucial, however, that regular volunteering does not impact on studies. This is why we encourage students to think about volunteering when they first join university and inspire them to volunteer during University vacation periods. Often regular volunteering will affect the role and responsibilities given by a voluntary organisation. Employers have stated the level of responsibility given to a volunteer is highly rated, as this is often believed to be conducive of a higher quality experience.
Through our website we encourage students who are volunteering to record their volunteering hours. Although, employers are often looking for the quality of a volunteering experience gained rather than how many hours of volunteering have been achieved, the hours accumulated are still widely recognised to be an important indication of a student’s commitment. This is why we have selected volunteering hours as a marker for our UCV Awards system.
We also encourage students to record the skills they have developed through their volunteering on our website, which can be downloaded when they graduate and use towards our UCV Awards.
We also offer our UCV (University of Chester Volunteering) awards system. This has been designed to not only offer students the chance to evaluate their skills and reflect on the impact of their volunteering at each level, but to also give them the opportunity to receive University of Chester accreditation for their volunteering (by listed on an undergraduate Higher Education Achievement Record (HEAR) and certification). Employers rated the ability to articulate the skills and experiences gained from volunteering as the most important aspect of volunteering. The UCV Awards are designed with this in mind.
The University of Chester’s Careers and Employability Team recognises the importance of volunteering and employability. The UCV Awards feature as points towards the Chester Difference Award; an award the Careers Team have developed to recognise various activities students can take part in whilst studying at the University of Chester to improve their employability. Results have shown that 98% of students became more employable through achieving this award.
It is important to remember that, although employability is a major benefit of volunteering, there are other advantages that can be gained through volunteering which are of major importance too; the biggest one is improving wellbeing, whether this is through meeting new people, getting involved in a new activity, building confidence, or just through the satisfaction of doing good – all are equally as important, and can benefit employability in a different way.
When writing a CV or application make sure you don’t underestimate your volunteering and the skills you have earned. If you need advice on this, the University’s Careers and Employability Team can help you further. When applying for jobs in the future, don’t forget to mention your volunteering experience!
Remember, if you haven’t volunteered yet, maybe it’s time to do something great – for you, your community, and your career.
11th June 2020
Volunteering from Home: Why being kind from your couch does more than you think
by Joanne Morison (Project Officer)
Volunteering from home; virtual volunteering; remote volunteering; microvolunteering- these terms are becoming increasingly popular in the volunteering and charity sector. For many this goes against the “traditional” model of volunteering- namely giving your time in person. For some, it may not even feel like volunteering- can it really be volunteering if it only takes 10 minutes? Can volunteering online really make a difference?
Giving your time to a charitable organisation has a huge positive impact; however, it is also one of the biggest barriers to people participating in voluntary activity. Time is a precious commodity for so many, and increasingly people are less likely to be able to volunteer on a regular basis.
Microvolunteering offers people the opportunity to volunteer anytime, on their own terms, and in small, bite-sized chunks, the idea being that all these small actions form a bigger cumulative community or global impact. Some offline microvolunteering is available but the majority takes place at home or online. The advent of the “virtual volunteering” space has opened up huge possibilities to include and encourage more people to volunteer from home, especially now that more people are staying at home due to Covid-19.
Covid-19 has had a considerable impact on the charitable sector- on the one hand the sector has come together under extraordinary circumstances, adapting to support local communities throughout the crisis by supporting the NHS; food banks and people and communities in need. Simultaneously there has also been a huge strain put on the sector with many volunteer roles put on hold due to the need for social distancing, and the potential loss of funding through cancelled fundraising events. Organisations that can offer virtual volunteering opportunities are able to continue to engage with people in what has become our “new normal” for the time being, opening up the virtual space to encourage social action and giving back to others.
It is more crucial than ever to be able to continue to give back and volunteering from home can offer people this opportunity, but for some it could lose some of the positive benefits experienced through the more traditional model of volunteering. The clear connection between their action as a volunteer and the difference this makes to an organisation or cause, as well as having the opportunity to gain real life experience to develop skills, offer attractive benefits to the potential volunteer.
Although volunteering from home- whether through microvolunteering or virtual means- cannot be a complete replacement for long term volunteering, it can still offer many benefits and rewards, and can act as a great introduction into the world of volunteering.
Small actions add up
The key tenet of micovolunteering is that lots of small actions all add up into cumulative action. Some virtual volunteer platforms offer recognition of your contribution visually. Free Rice is an online quiz which utilises advertisements to trigger financial payments to the World Food Programme, helping to combat world hunger. Free Rice offers a simple visual tool to demonstrate to the virtual volunteer the impact their time is having- as they answer questions correctly, their virtual “food bowl” fills with rice, with each correct answer generating the equivalent payment of 10 grains of rice from the sponsors of Free Rice. The platform updates every day with the total amount of rice grains donated from the previous day, helping to include the virtual volunteer into the wider, global impact their actions are having.
Many virtual volunteer platforms provide statistics on the number of volunteers that are involved; their achievements and number of actions they have taken, so that volunteers from home can still feel a part of something bigger than their own individual action.
One of the key drivers often motivating people to take up a volunteer opportunity is the chance to develop skills and gain experience for their future career. Volunteering usually offers the chance to develop key “soft” skills that are valued by employers, such as communication skills.
Continuing to develop this skill through work or volunteering experience might be especially difficult during the current social distancing guidelines, with many face to face volunteer activities suspended for the time being. There are some volunteer from home opportunities which can support the continued development of communication skills, such as Be My Eyes. This is an app which supports blind and partially sighted people by providing them with access to volunteers who can lend their eyes to solve tasks. To volunteer, all you need to do is download the app, then you provide support via live video calls and texts as and when you are free. This app provides ample opportunity to develop verbal communication as well as essential listening skills, all whilst supporting the blind and low-vision community to live more independent lives.
If you wanted to develop more technical skills, you could take your volunteering globally and volunteer via the United Nations Volunteers platform. This links volunteers with organisations who are working towards peace and development, and they breakdown the volunteer roles into categories such as writing and editing; translation; research and project development.
Support your wellbeing
Giving your time for others can have a real positive effect on your mental wellbeing. It can provide us with a sense of purpose and achievement, and research has shown it can have positive health outcomes on mental and physical health. Although research is limited on the effects of more informal types of volunteering, it can still offer the opportunity to give back to others.
The NHS lists “giving back” as one of the 5 steps to wellbeing, which also includes Take Notice; Keep Learning; Be Active and Connect. Volunteering can provide the opportunity to give back, but it could also offer the opportunity to meet some of the other steps as well.
Volunteering as a telephone befriender requires you to connect on a 1:1 basis: you could become a telephone befriender with Reengage; offer text support as a Crisis volunteer with Shout; or you could join the wave of letter writing schemes that have opened up since Covid-19, such as The Crisis Project, writing letters of support to key workers. This platform updates regularly with the numbers of volunteers and letters sent, providing volunteers with a real sense of achievement and the feel-good factor. As a volunteer in the virtual volunteering space there are also often opportunities to connect with others, via leader-boards and online discussion groups.
To support an active life style you could incorporate volunteering into any walks you may do; for example, identifying local wildlife and submitting this information to local recording centres; litter picking on your walk; or even making your garden wildlife friendly.
Volunteering allows you to keep learning by expanding your networks and knowledge on local, global and national issues. You will have the opportunity to increase your awareness and understanding of whichever charity you choose to support through your volunteering, helping you to feel a sense of purpose and improve your confidence.
So if you would like to give back and make a difference, why not use your time to volunteer. Once you find something you are passionate about it will only take a few minutes to get started. Because being kind from your couch does far more than you ever thought it could.
You can find lots more volunteering from home opportunities on our dedicated “Volunteering from Home” page, and for more information and guidance about volunteering please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
5th May 2020
Six Ways You Can Still Give Back During Lockdown
by Shaunagh Smith (Volunteer Coordinator)
As we enter week 6 of lockdown, I thought now would be the perfect time to reflect on some of the ways you have been, and can continue to, give back despite the unusual circumstances we find ourselves in. It has been so heartening to see how many staff and students at the University of Chester are playing a part to support others during Covid-19. For me, this pandemic has really emphasised the importance of coming together despite our differences and giving back to those who need our support most.
For those of us who are lucky enough to be healthy and with time to spare, there are lots of ways we can continue to help our key workers, our loved ones, and others in our community who need a little extra support right now, here’s my top 6:
There are lots of people separated from their loved ones at the moment, but it doesn’t mean we can’t keep in touch with one another. I don’t know about you, but I think I have seen more of my friends on weekly ‘Zoom’ quizzes than I perhaps would normally! Telephoning or video-calling your loved ones to check in and see how they are might not seem much, but it can make a huge difference to those who are feeling lonely during this time. If you want to reach out beyond your immediate circle, we have adapted our ‘Letters Against Loneliness’ project to send some kind words and put a smile on the face of an older person in our community who may be more isolated than normal during this time. Many staff and students have been sending letters to our contacts at local care homes which have been so positively received, if this is something you’d like to get involved with then please email us!
In many countries, blood banks saw a fall in donations after social distancing measures kicked in. Blood banks have stressed that even if their stocks are good now, it is important people keep donating as normal or register and make appointments to donate later in the year, to ensure a steady supply.
If you are already a donor you can still give blood as normal. There are updated guidelines on the NHS Give Blood website, as well as information on the precautionary measures being made at appointments in light of Covid-19. If you aren’t currently a donor, think about registering now, as the UK blood bank has told donors: "We will need you most later in the year as we feel the impact of coronavirus”.
The cancellation of fundraising events due to Coronavirus could have huge implications for the voluntary sector who rely heavily on donations. The cancellation of the London Marathon, which last year raised £66m for hundreds of charities, saw the charity sector get creative and encourage people to take part in a 2.6 challenge. If you haven’t had a chance to get involved, just complete a challenge with the numbers 2 and 6 involved, whether its running 2.6 miles, juggling for 2.6 minutes or racing 26 laps around your car park like University of Chester volunteer, Steph Taylor. It’s a fantastic way to fundraise for a charity close to your heart! If there’s one person who has inspired us all to fundraise this year, it’s Captain Tom Moore, who walked 100 lengths of his garden for his 100th Birthday raising over £32m for NHS Charities Together in the process, incredible! If you aren’t able to complete a fundraising challenge, a small donation to a friend’s fundraiser or to your chosen charity is still just as fantastic!
With restaurants, bars, gyms and social venues having to close their doors for the foreseeable future, it sadly leaves those businesses and their employees at risk; however, there are ways you can continue to support them from home. If you can, continue to order from your favourite independents - those who are able to are now offering takeaway and delivery options (including some that didn’t offer this service before the outbreak!) - or purchase a gift card to use when they do open up again. If you don’t have the extra funds to support in this way, you can still help by giving good reviews and sharing your favourite indies with your friends! It’s not all about food though, if you had tickets to a gig, show or class that is no longer going ahead, try to postpone instead of cancelling, as this helps prevent venues being out of pocket and also gives you something to look forward to after lockdown. I’ve also been taking part in online classes to show support for businesses, have fun and try something new in the process, so far I’ve tried calligraphy, wine tasting and yoga!
Of course, I have to give a big shout out volunteering! Although the majority of face-to-face volunteering has stopped for the time being, there are still lots of volunteering opportunities that you can get involved with to help local communities and those around the world. We have a page on our website with more information on the national response to Covid-19 and have already seen staff and students volunteer as NHS responders and supporting local causes like the West Cheshire Foodbank. If you are volunteering in the community, remember to follow NHS guidelines for protecting yourself. If you would rather volunteer from the comfort and safety of your sofa, that’s okay too! You can give as much or as little time as you want, and you can log your virtual volunteering hours in your volunteer profile. Whether you’re providing regular phone calls to isolated people with Re-Engage, sending letters to sick children through Post Pals, or identifying wildlife through Instant Wild, it all makes a difference to charities around the world. You can check out the new volunteering from home page on our website for more information about all of the fantastic volunteering opportunities available to you! Thank you for giving your time as a volunteer, however you do this, whether virtually or in the community, as it all helps and will make a huge difference in the response to this current crisis.
This might feel counter intuitive when we’re talking about giving back to the community, but it is genuinely the best way to give back to key workers at this time. Staying home and adhering to social distancing means you are not putting key workers and vulnerable members of society at risk. Being socially responsible is of utmost importance right now, so if you are taking part in any of the above activities, please remember to stay safe.
The current situation has really highlighted the importance of community, creativity and adaptability, I feel so proud to be part of the University of Chester community, and I love hearing stories of how people are giving back. As my colleague, Amy said in last month’s blog, “volunteering does not come from an act of self-preservation, but a natural response to help others in an uncertain time”. I couldn’t have put it better myself; the stories we hear are all of people wanting to play their part and do what they can to help others. Please continue to share your inspiring stories with us, and we’ll share them far and wide to help keep spirits high.
6th April 2020
History & Heritage – The Difference a Century Makes?
by Amy Butt (Mentoring Administrative Assistant)
Volunteer – “A person who does something, especially helping other people, willingly and without being forced or paid to do it.”
It is difficult to determine when volunteering truly began, with the term ‘volunteering’ itself having only originated in the 1600s. Terminology, however, does not necessarily define volunteering, but rather the nature and acts of the individuals themselves do. As we write this blog entry, we see this like never before, with 750,000 everyday people (and counting) putting themselves forward to help the NHS as we face a global crisis; and whilst it is coined as ‘volunteering’ most see it as simply “doing their part”. The kindness of thousands is something history will look back on with admiration, and yet it is an act that thousands have done without a second thought. So, what makes volunteering what it is today? Have social expectations changed the collective opinion and reasons for volunteering? Or is the act of volunteering not far from how it has been in the past?
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) suggests that one of the reasons someone may volunteer stems from a need to “give back to an organisation that has impacted on a person’s life, either directly or indirectly.” It is easy to understand why thousands have volunteered for the NHS at this present time – the Covid-19 virus has affected everyone, no matter what race, age, gender, or social standing a person may be – but it is not a fair to suggest that this reason to volunteer is any less noble than any other. It is natural to be drawn to opportunities that have affected us deeply, and the further reaching a crisis is, the more likely societies are going to come together to help one another. It is safe to say that we are currently living through a historical event, and we need only look at previous historic periods to see the trend of wanting to help others during a crisis emerge.
Although there are countless examples we would love to acknowledge, we look at the British Red Cross as it celebrates its 150th anniversary as an example of how volunteering has moulded itself to fit social expectations and also change the limitations of volunteering. From its establishment in 1870, to its support through both world wars and its current worldwide movement, the British Red Cross has shown its ability to adapt whilst staying true to its seven fundamental principles. Currently, we see the organisation calling for Red Cross Community Reserve Volunteers and asking people to help in any way they can as “kindness will keep us together”. Whilst this movement of kindness is not new to the organisation, or society in general, it has been reiterated in today’s climate, and is used to remind others of the importance of community – a stance that is not too far from their voluntary actions during both world wars.
Looking back over a century, we see that World War I created a new wave of voluntary action; introducing nearly 18,000 new charities to help with the war effort. Admirably, this global conflict also led to societal truces; most notably the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) put aside their political grievances to support the war effort – adding to the huge impact of women’s efforts during this unstable period. One of the organisations which has stood the test of time through this conflict and beyond is the British Red Cross. The organisation played a major part in supporting the war effort, introducing Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) to help with nursing, transport, cooking and other necessary activities. What is noteworthy is that this voluntary action asked for support from both men and women; bringing them together under one cause like never before. All the voluntary action of 1914-1918 showcased the true meaning of volunteering; solidarity by helping others willingly and without expectation of rewards or even acknowledgement. It was simply people “doing their part” to help in any way they can.
So why is it we are looking back at a conflict that occurred over a century ago, and seemingly has no resemblance to our current circumstances? It namely comes down to one significant, yet important, similarity; we, as a society, have come together and put differences aside to help each other in any way we can. Whether you are one of the 750,000 (and rising) to have signed up to help the NHS, or are simply checking up on a friend, family member or neighbour, you are “doing your part”. It does not come from an act of self-preservation, but rather the natural response of helping others through an uncertain time. They are actions we can look back on with pride in years to come, but at this present time we do not have a second thought of helping in any way we can; and that in itself is what makes the action of volunteering so commendable, and also one that, in hindsight, has not changed through time. Helping others is simply something we do, and will continue to do for years, even centuries, to come; whatever the reason may be.