“If you are not clear about looking for ‘volunteers’, you may as well give up.” Lisa Garson, Director at AVA
If a young person is specifically looking for work and a salary, volunteering is unlikely to meet their expectations or needs, which will limit their ability to contribute and grow in the opportunity.
AVA therefore says it’s “essential” to screen out young people who are merely seeking entry into the job market, and to look for those eager to address specific social issues through volunteering. GWF confirms that establishing the candidate’s commitment to the cause is critical.
Assessing a candidate’s skill set and getting a sense of their strengths and learning areas is important. This helps them to be placed in a volunteership opportunity where they will be able to contribute well, develop confidence and improve on their skills.
Although GWF appraises candidates’ skills at the time of application or recruitment, they impose no minimum entry requirements and do not expect applicants to have completed Matric. They do this because they are sensitive to the dire circumstances young people face – especially in the rural area where they work – and because of the type of volunteer opportunities they offer.
“She was a ‘tough love’ kind of boss – she knew exactly what she wanted and how she wanted it done. Working with her taught me quite a lot about work ethic and making sure that things were done right: check your spelling and don’t be lazy on the details because she will notice. And time keeping, I am not a morning person and if I was late I had to explain why. That was really good, it taught me about work ethic and self-discipline and what it is to work hard.”
Marguerite van Niekerk
Create Change Interview
Be aware that for some young people this could be their very first workplace encounter, and so they may need to develop certain workplace skills and values, such as prioritisation and time management, etc. The volunteership is an important opportunity for them to acquire these skills (read more about personal development here) that will help make them more employable.
Many young people come from vulnerable and underserved communities. There are often threats in their environment that may prevent them from participating fully and benefitting from their volunteer experiences. A young volunteer will be better able to perform well and grow in a volunteer position if such blockages are identified early on, and measures are put in place to support them to overcome these.
For more on services, resources and advice for volunteer recruitment and assessment, click here.
Stipends play an important role in removing blockages that often prevent volunteers from participating fully, such as not being able to afford transport. But ‘stipends’ need to be carefully framed.
According to AVA it is critical that volunteers understand the ‘stipend’ is not the type of stipend paid to an intern in a work placement. It should never be framed as a starter salary or as reimbursement for volunteering – this can set up unreasonable expectations of the volunteership as a work placement. AVA thus refer to stipends as ‘volunteer allowances’.
Typically, stipends or allowances are calculated according to transport and other costs volunteers are likely to incur during their placement. This can range from R750 to R3 000 per month. Contracts should also specify that volunteers are not employees and are not entitled to leave. They will also not be paid if they fail to turn up without notice.
While internships are aimed at developing a particular skill set in a specific area of work, volunteerships often present the opportunity for the development of a broad range of work-readiness skills. Organisations hosting volunteers can contribute to the future lives of volunteers by complementing the opportunity for on-the-job skills development with further opportunities for personal development. The aim would be to allow for the development of foundational competencies that enable successful performance in the workplace.
The scope of the personal development opportunity that you offer volunteers will vary depending on the size, expertise and resources in your organisation. Click here to learn about how you can offer a comprehensive personal development opportunity. If you represent a small community initiative or organisation that will only be working with a few volunteers at a time, you could use these theme-based coaching/mentoring guidelines for this purpose.
Both AVA and GWF use the experiences that the volunteers gain in the workplace as a tool to facilitate workplace readiness and personal development training. When skills are learnt as part of development sessions, they are practiced in real time during the volunteering work.
As is the case in any situation where people are being organised to achieve specific outcomes, volunteers will perform better and learn more when:
“Then I got a job at a factory in Ndabeni. There I worked in a department with a guy who played a big role in my life. I always had the sense that people don’t want to share skills, but this guy was open. ‘Dean, if you have something difficult please don’t be shy or don’t be afraid to ask me. Just ask me. If you need to ask me ten times do it.’ My learning ability within that environment escalated”.
Create Change Interview
AVA requires organisations where volunteers are placed to submit a monthly report of each volunteer’s progress with regard to on-the-job training. These reports also highlight any problems (e.g. punctuality issues, frequent absences, non-performance), which are then addressed with the volunteer.
Ensure that you have identified and documented the technical skills and personal development skills developed through the volunteership. It would be enormously helpful for the young person if you could provide them with a reference letter once they have volunteered for a period in which you could confidently verify their progress. Many young people don’t have access to networks and don’t know how to market their skills effectively for the labour market. You can help by doing any (or all) of the following:
Both AVA and GWF link their volunteers to formal employment or more focused skills-based training, which then leads to placement in specific industries, such as IT or hospitality.
In your referral letter or conversation with a potential employer, go to some trouble to explain the skills that have been acquired and the qualities of the volunteer that will make them desirable in the workplace. For inspiration look here.
Jobstarter advises that to give potential employers a sense of a skill, it needs to (a) be named (and described if necessary) [e.g. event planning and organising]; (b) explained how the skill was acquired [e.g. planned and organised regular brownbag lunch learning sessions for the organisation]; and (c) the resulting output described [over the course of a year X hosted 18 sessions which were each attended by about 30 staff members].
In summary, youth volunteers can add a lot of value to the work of non-profit organisations and in the process make a big difference in communities. By going the extra mile and structuring volunteership opportunities in the following ways, you can make a big difference in their future lives:
Get recruitment right!
Providing a stipend/volunteer allowance is important, but be clear about the framing – volunteers are not employees and should not have expectations associated with employment.
Offer opportunities for personal development – this can be as simple as doing coaching or mentoring, but you can also give volunteers access to comprehensive personal development programmes that will greatly enhance their employability, as well as their performance in your organisation.
Implement good management practices to ensure that volunteers can perform well in an environment that is conducive to learning.
Help volunteers transition from voluntary work to employment. Think about partnering with employers who value the skills developed through your volunteerships; or connect volunteers to people and organisations in your network. A non-negotiable is to provide a reference letter that will help an employer to see the value that this potential new employee could add.
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|1.||⇧||This is also the case for internships or any junior positions in an organisation.|