Forget the exotic trips abroad – gap year students should stay in the UK and volunteer for the National Trust.
It’s that time of year, when thousands of young people across the country are making important decisions about their futures. Some may decide to take a break from the education conveyor belt and gain some other experience, like volunteering at Ashridge.
The traditional British ‘gap year’ consisting of travelling, with some voluntary work thrown in for the personal statement, has adapted to a changing socio economic climate. Young people are increasingly looking for experiences that offer something more impressive than a voyage of self-discovery, to put on their CV. They need to disown the current tag of “snowflake” – the derogative term used to characterise the young adults of the 2010’s as less resilient than earlier generations. They need to get their hands dirty and embrace the work ethic at an early stage. They know that they need work experience to avoid being caught in the cycle of no experience, no job. It is not just short term work experience placements that are needed however, it is experience of work and the world of work. This is backed up by businesses, who have been saying for years that young recruits aren’t ready for the workplace. The CBI reported in its 2016 Education and Skills Survey that employers are increasingly pessimistic that they will find enough new recruits skilled in leadership and management. The report also found that when hiring school and college leavers, employers look for a positive attitude to work first, followed by their aptitude, ranking both ahead of formal qualifications. So it seems obvious that there is an opportunity here to enable all young people to gain worthwhile experience of work and the real world, boosting their key skills and giving back to society at the same time.
The UK has plenty of social outlets to choose from – you don’t need to travel abroad to find a worthy cause to donate time to.
Volunteering, or social action as it is often known, is a gap year activity which looks great on CVs and helps to develop key skills whilst giving young people direct experience of front-line services and issues in areas such as education, the environment, health or social care. At the moment this happens in a piecemeal way, but a big Government-supported full-time volunteering programme could make this greater than the sum of its parts, harnessing the energy and creativity of young people and encouraging them to tackle the social problems which many of them see played out around them. This would benefit everyone, and would not require a hefty bank balance to fund expensive travel.
Ministers are being urged to introduce a legal status for full-time volunteers, who currently are officially classified as NEET (not in education, employment or training).
There are thousands of young people already engaged in full-time social action across the country but they are denied certain benefits such as national insurance credits, which is granted to students and jobseekers. Being classified as NEET when you give up your time – full-time – is also not the recognition these altruistic young people deserve.
The Government has set up the “Review of Full Time Social Action by Young People”, an independent investigation into the legal and regulatory barriers to full-time social action in the UK. It is due to present its recommendations in December and it is hoped that the Government will give support for a year out spent undertaking voluntary social action.
Social action can deliver vital experience and introduce young people to the wider world of work beyond education. It’s a chance to go on that voyage of self-discovery and develop the key skills of leadership, management and also resilience that employers need. The charity City Year UK is calling on the Government to support full-time social action by introducing a structured programme by which anyone can take time out to volunteer for a cause they care passionately about, alongside support to reflect on what they have experienced and how they are developing as a result.
As far as the Trust is concerned, a workshop was held in April 2016 to determine the demographics of the volunteer workforce which concluded that we are white middle class, and elderly – the average age is seventy. Nothing wrong in that you might say, but with an ageing workforce of some sixty thousand it is obvious that volunteering work should appear as a more attractive proposition for a wider range of people. The Trust could therefore support the Government’s investigation by offering a program of recognised conservation work for young volunteers.
Ashridge volunteers have done their part by actively embracing this Blog which sets out to showcase their work to a wider audience, with a viewing figure fast approaching eight thousand hits.
Thanks to Sophie Livingstone for her contribution.