Volunteer opportunities are a great way for your child to gain experience of the workplace as well as useful soft skills, technical skills and knowledge.
In this guide, we look at what counts as volunteering, what the benefits might be for your child and how you can help them access volunteer opportunities.
'A guide to volunteer opportunities for parents'
What is volunteering?
As we all know, volunteering means giving your time freely to an organisation without being paid. But did you know that beyond this basic definition, it can mean a whole of host of other things too? Volunteers work in a number of settings and at different times in their life:
- In a charity shop, processing stock and providing customer service.
- For a charity “in the field” either in the UK or overseas.
- Work experience students volunteer their time, although they may not be classed as a volunteer.
- Gap year students often volunteer their time.
- Charitable and other non-profits organisations which work for social good often rely on volunteers.
As you can see, volunteering means more than just standing behind the counter in a high-street charity shop – although this is one great way for your child to learn valuable workplace skills while contributing to a good cause.
Your child could even gain UCAS points by volunteering.
But if your child is looking for something more hands-on, outdoors or long term, there may be things they can do through a volunteer opportunity.
Volunteer or worker?
It is important to know the legal definition of a volunteer so your child doesn’t do work for free when the law says they should be getting paid.
Workers are classed as volunteers if they work for a charity, voluntary organisation, fundraising body or a statutory body and only receive payment for out-of-pocket expenses such as travel and lunch.
A student doing a work experience placement may be volunteering – and that is above board and correct – but they are not a “volunteer”. If your child ends up working for free for a business over the summer, it’s important to check whether, legally, they should be being paid. Visit our page on internships which explains in more detail when a work should be paid.
Why is it good for my child’s career?
Volunteer opportunities can help your child develop a host of soft skills which will be useful in any job, and potentially some hard, technical skills they could employ in their future career.
Soft skills include:
Technical skills are those skills which relate specifically to the job they are doing. For example, if your child is volunteering outdoors for a conservation or forestry organisation, they might learn technical skills and specialist knowledge such as bushcraft, identifying species, identifying trees ready for felling and so on.
When is a good time to volunteer?
Your child can undertake volunteer opportunities any time, depending on the organisation’s age policy. They could choose to volunteer at the weekends during their studies, or during a gap year, when they might. They will also undertake a voluntary (i.e. unpaid) placement in Year 10 as work experience.
How can I help them find a volunteer opportunity?
There a number of ways you can help your child find a volunteer opportunity:
- Ask them if they have considered volunteering as it may not have occurred to them to do so. Discuss the benefits of gaining new skills and knowledge that will help them succeed in future job applications.
- If you notice or think of an opportunity you think may be valuable to them, you could suggest they take a look. Before doing so, think about whether it would be beneficial or valuable to them.
- Consider the time they have available and whether the placement will interfere with their studies. For example, are they on a gap year? Is it the summer? Or is it term time when they need to use their spare time to study?
- Do you know anyone who can help them get a placement? For example, you may know someone who works or volunteers for an organisation which takes volunteers.
- Is the placement of interest and is it what they want? Don’t try to force a placement on them if they don’t see any value or interest in it. That doesn’t mean you can’t discuss the benefits with them, but if they say no, try to accept this.
Find out more about volunteer opportunities by visiting our volunteering advice section and sharing these articles with your child.
Images: Oxfam shop by Redrose64 via Wikimedia Commons CC 3.0 (unported)