The unemployed volunteer
Can volunteering while you're looking for work make you more employable? Employers say it can - and Scouts is one of the best places to do it.
Ask anyone who’s looked for a job recently, and they’ll tell you it’s a tough market out there. An uncertain economic future, heightened competition for roles and fewer opportunities overall are making job-hunting a minefield.
The unemployment rate has been falling steadily since the recession, but amongst under-25s it is still shockingly high, at 13.4% as of December 2015. Last year, there were just 26,000 graduate vacancies and paid internships for 2.3 million students.
If ever there was a time to need an advantage in a job interview, it is now. But increasingly, this does not have to take the form of work experience. Employers are beginning to value skills learned and demonstrated through volunteering – especially in organised settings, like Scouts.
‘Volunteering has been really good,’ Assistant Cub Scout Leader Dan told me over the phone. At the time we were speaking he was unemployed, and had only just begun volunteering with a Cub Pack – yet he was clearly enjoying the experience. ‘[Cubs] gives me something to think about, and makes me feel useful,’ he explained.
In 2015, Dan made the bold decision to emigrate and start a new life overseas, planning to pay his way around the world by teaching English as a foreign language. He took a course to get his teaching qualification, quit his job, packed up his belongings and threw a leaving party. ‘Going abroad was a big thing for me,’ he says.
But, almost as soon as his new life abroad began, Dan was forced to abandon his big dreams and come back to the UK. ‘It just didn’t work out,’ he says dejectedly. He returned to the UK in winter – back Sheffield, to be greeted by high rent, lashing grey rain and endless questions from all the people he’d so recently said goodbye to.
He’d cut his ties, and his old job was no longer available. It was a struggle to readjust to life in the UK: this future was not the one Dan had imagined for himself. Some days, it felt impossible to muster the strength to get up and look for jobs.
Dan picked up some work through those tough first months – temporary contracts and part-time hours, often in low-paid, low-skilled roles. He took jobs out of necessity. ‘Paid employment is essential, but lots of jobs aren’t fulfilling,’ Dan ruminated.
After three months of on-again, off-again employment, Dan was struggling. But then his friend invited him to come along to a new Cubs section, which had recently opened in a suburb of Sheffield. He began to support the Pack as an Assistant Leader, engaging with the young people and helping the leadership team to plan sessions.
Scouting helped Dan to reassess his worldview. ‘Volunteering is reminding me that I’m good at things,’ he said at the time. ‘It’s like I’m reactivating the skills that I’ve learned in the past.’ With a background in primary school teaching, Dan’s prior experience of working with young people fit hand-in-glove with what was required of him in Cubs.
‘When you stop doing things [like working with young people], you can forget that you were good at it at one point. You fall into bad jobs and forget that there are fun jobs out there,’ Dan said. ‘Scouting is giving me some transferable skills to get a job I would enjoy, compared to one that just pays the rent.’
In 2014, The Scout Association worked with think-tank Demos, to publish research analysing the impact of Scouting. The findings note that job hunters often need ‘two kinds of experience before they can embark on a fruitful career’: both work experience and experience ‘developed through non-formal activities’. This second type of experience, incorporating facilitation skills and teamwork, is something Scouting can supply by the bucketful.
Part of the secret to Scouting’s success, when it comes to equipping leaders with skills that make them more employable, is a tried-and-tested training programme. This training is always either free or low cost, and is delivered in many different ways – small group sessions which encourage leaders to meet each other, online to be completed in leaders’ own time, or one-to-one to provide maximal support – to suit the individual. Such comprehensive and flexible training is often not offered by employers.
‘We’ve got challenging behaviour training coming up soon, and induction training for us new leaders,’ Dan said. ‘I’m enthusiastic to take up the training and learn new things – and it’s a chance to meet other [Scouts volunteers].’
Demos’ research included a survey of 2500 people, conducted by Public And Corporate Economic Consultants (PACEC). 91% of the active adult Scout volunteers surveyed stated that Scouting had helped them to develop key skills, including social skills, team working and leadership skills.
In another PACEC survey, 800 external organisations – including public and private sector employers - were asked about their perception of candidates with Scouting on their CV. 41% stated that an applicant’s involvement in Scouting would influence them positively, and 60% said they believed people with a Scouting background would work well in a team, would have leadership abilities, and would have more confidence.
It is a couple of months later when I catch up with Dan again, to see how his volunteering role is progressing alongside his search for paid employment.
‘I’m still volunteering with Cubs,’ he says with enthusiasm, having settled into the role much more. He generally seems brighter, and more at ease. ‘The Group is feeling a bit more established now – the Cubs have almost all got uniform, and we’ve been on some great trips, like climbing.’
Dan has completed his Getting Started training, and he’s enjoying the volunteering. He has also recently landed a permanent job. ‘It’s not the most exciting job in the world,’ he concedes, but it is providing him with some much-needed stability.
‘Overall I’m doing good things, but occasionally it doesn’t feel like it [at work] because there’s no one there to motivate. But the volunteering fulfils that feeling, so the paid work doesn’t matter so much,’ Dan says. ‘For that reason, [Scouting] is worthwhile in and of itself.’
He has made a conscious effort to make sure that his paid work fits in around volunteering with Cubs, because of the benefits he sees from Scouting. In doing so, Dan is simultaneously developing both types of employability skills identified in the Demos report: skills developed in the workplace, and skills from less formal but equally valid sources, like volunteering.
Reflecting back on the months he spent unemployed, Dan sees Cubs as having been a positive influence throughout. ‘Cubs gave me a routine, and a bit of structure,’ he says. As for future plans, Dan is coy. ‘I’ve not really got many long-term goals,’ he says.
After such a turbulent period, believing that he was starting a perfect new life abroad, only to see it crack and shatter irreparably, this unwillingness to commit to anything too permanent is understandable. It’s almost a phase to pass through. ‘I don’t think I’ll be doing [my new job] forever, and so when I’m applying for other jobs in the future, Cubs will definitely help with employability,’ Dan says positively.
Volunteering with Scouting can be a transformative process. It supplies adults with the key skills to get on life, helps forge new social networks, and builds the confidence needed to get out there and apply for opportunities. It’s hugely beneficial in a multitude of ways. Volunteering with Scouts can shape the future of adults, just as much as it shapes the future of young people.
Make sure you take advantage of the training opportunities offered in your District. Get in touch with your District Commissioner to find out what’s on this month.