Should Students Do Volunteer Work in the UK?

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One of the things many students are encouraged to do throughout their education is to volunteer, whether inside school, for a charity, or at an after-school club. However, many students find it difficult to find time to volunteer. It is also common for students to feel that volunteering may be pointless, or a waste of time when they could be doing schoolwork.

As someone who volunteers regularly at charity events and tutors’ younger students, I know how stressful it can be to try to find volunteer work, but also how rewarding it is to give back to your community. This article will explain why volunteering is a great and worthwhile choice for any student to make, as well as how you can get involved in volunteering yourself.

Students who do volunteer work usually find that the benefits reach far further than they expected, for example not only giving them CV and references for jobs, but also future employment opportunities. It can also give you training in first aid, handling equipment and customer service, as well as time management that will be helpful in all areas of your future.

While this should have given you an overview of why volunteer work is so important, please read on for full details and how to find a volunteer job for yourself.

Why should students do volunteer work?

  • Volunteering offers a huge boost to the persons CV – It can also be used on your university or UCAS application. It demonstrates commitment, proactivity, and kindness, as well as that you are dependable and enthusiastic, which are all skills employers look for.
  • You will collaborate with other people who are higher up in the company – These are roles such as managers and others, who are already successful in their own careers. This is a great opportunity to have a mentor, find references for your CV, or even make connections for a job when you graduate from university or leave school.
  • Volunteering can also help you get experience in your chosen career or try out a new one without commitment – For example, those applying for medicine degrees can look at volunteering in hospitals or care homes, and marketing or sales applications can be boosted by organising charity events.
  • Students who volunteer are usually given some training as part of their role – whether on interacting with others, CPR, and other first aid certification or on using equipment. This training is often free and can be used on your CV as a pathway to getting other jobs, and it will also help you once you enter the workplace as an employee.

To find out more reasons why students should do volunteer work, you can click on this link to a Think Student article.

What are the benefits of volunteering?

  • Volunteering gives you a chance to develop skills and practice for careers you want in the future – this is good as it is a great chance to get feedback from others who have the role you may aim for in the future. For example, many employers ask for “soft skills” in the workplace, like leadership, public speaking, and teamwork, which can readily be learned through volunteer roles.
  • Some volunteers are even offered a job at the end of their placement if the organisation thinks you are good enough – This is a great way to earn money as a student, especially as it can be hard to get a job that fits around your school hours.
  • Volunteering is a way to make a real difference in someone’s life – Just an hour a week, a small amount of time and effort, and your skills, could be exactly what a charity needs. It will make you feel good for helping, but the benefit you have on someone else’s life could last for years, and that is the most important thing.

How many hours per week can you volunteer?

The rules on how long you can volunteer depends on where in the UK you live. As an example, some universities such as Cambridge and Oxford do not allow students to work or volunteer for more than 4 hours a week in case it interferes with their studies. For more information about this, check out the government guide to volunteering here.

Some organisations do not have insurance to cover under-16-year-olds working in their organisation. This may also be another age limit, such as under 18 or 21, depending on the role you would be fulfilling. Under 14s cannot work for any profit-making organisation, even if they are not being paid. This is due to child labour laws, which protect children from exploitation.

Another common concern for volunteers is whether people who receive benefits or government support are allowed to volunteer, and for how many hours. Essentially you should be able to volunteer for as many hours as you wish if you receive benefits, as long as you keep to the rules of the benefit you are receiving.

For example, PIP (Personal Independence Payment) does not conflict with volunteer work, provided that this does not appear to conflict with your condition and therefore your need for the benefit. You do not need to inform the HMRC of any volunteering you are doing for most benefits, however, some benefits do require you to inform the local authority. For more information on this, please check out this Citizens Advice page for more details on specific benefits.

How long should you volunteer for?

Volunteering is, as the name suggests, voluntary. This means that the amount of time you commit to it is completely up to you! From doing a few weekends a year, one event in a month, or even volunteering daily, any amount of time you can give will make a huge difference.

In order to get the most out of volunteering from my experience you should commit to a regular but manageable timeslot. For example, I volunteer for around 5 hours a week on a Saturday teaching younger pupils and students. It is also common to do around an hour a week after school.

The regular commitment means you can get the most out of the experience without being overwhelmed or forgetting skills, and it also shows commitment on your CV, which employers always look for.

Can volunteering get you a job?

Some students find that at the end of their volunteer placement they have enjoyed the work so much that they want to take on a paid role in that organisation. This is common and is actually a great way to start on your chosen career path.

Typically, if a company wants you to take on a paid role, they will contact you during or after you finish volunteering to discuss how you can join their organisation. You may need to have an interview, submit a CV, or provide references, even if you have previously done this with the organisation for the volunteer role.

If the company has not contacted you but you are interested in working for the company professionally then emailing them or speaking to your volunteer supervisor is a good place to start in getting a job. You might be able to get a role straight away, but they could also put you on a list of people to contact when a position opens up so that you can go through the interview and selection process that way.

Volunteers do not get paid, but they should receive out-of-pocket expenses such as for fuel or travel for some roles, especially if they are directly asked to spend this money by the company. This is to ensure volunteers are not losing money to help out the organisation but are still not being paid.

Where can students volunteer?

Students can volunteer almost anywhere! The options for volunteering are practically endless, and there is a volunteer opportunity for any interest or career path. Check out local businesses, schools, and charities that you care about or have a connection to for the most likely opportunities but be open to doing things you would not have considered before. The whole point of volunteering is to help people, so any path you choose will have a good impact on someone!

For more ideas on volunteering, check out WhatUni’s guide to student volunteering here. Think Student’s article on Student Volunteer Week 2022 also has some great ideas on how to get involved in volunteering as a student, in this link.

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