Ben’s experience

Ben Andrews (photo by Tony Short)
Article date
6 October 2011
Primary interest

At a time when unemployment seems to be continually rising and when the global economic crisis faces us everywhere we turn, it is a daunting period for all young people coming out of education.

These were my first thoughts when I graduated from university this summer, as I attempted to look for temporary work as a form of income until I started my Graduate Diploma in Law in September. I went through all of my previously tried and tested channels; phoning up temping agencies I had signed up to and looking at job websites, hoping that my newly acquired qualification would make a large impact for me on the employment scene. I knew it was going to be competitive, but perhaps I had underestimated just how much so.

After a couple of weeks it quickly became apparent to me that I was indeed still just a naive graduate, wholly inexperienced in what I was trying to do, and who would not be staying in town long enough to apply for a permanent job. With applications flooding in for temporary work, applicants with vast amounts of experience were getting the nod ahead of students and I was left to fight it out in a pool of over 200 applications for single administration roles. It was here that the idea of volunteering first occurred to me.

I had always been intrigued by volunteering, and had minimal experience with it through some of the work I had been involved in at university. Whilst the temp agencies were looking for work, surely it was only a good idea to go and get involved in something that would have numerous benefits for both me and RVA (Reading Voluntary Action)? I could help the community, Reading Voluntary Action itself, but it also provided me with the opportunity to do something rather than vegetate at home. It was also great to be involved in a project where I genuinely felt I was contributing and in an environment where I felt I became a valued member of the team.

When you work in a place where you feel you make an actual difference, it makes your work that little bit more personal and perhaps you subconsciously put more effort into it.

When I began working at the RVA it was not a similarly daunting encounter as beginning work in an office, but was instead extremely relaxed. This did not seem to affect the work ethic though, and on the contrary may have improved it even more. When you work in a place where you feel you make an actual difference, it makes your work that little bit more personal and perhaps you subconsciously put more effort into it. Although I was mainly involved in data entry there was the desire to make sure things were perfect, and that everything I was involved in was presented in the most friendly, understandable, and professional way possible.

Many young people shun the idea of volunteering, either because it is not particularly fashionable or because the financial rewards of paid work outweigh the moral ones of working for free. Whilst this is an entirely understandable viewpoint, it should not stop you from getting involved where you can and attempting something completely different. Working with RVA was an absolute pleasure, and was so easy to engage with. I feel that I will be welcome to go back anytime I can, and every time I do go back there is always something interesting or different to do. In terms of work experience it has also been invaluable as I was working in an office environment fulfilling many of the same tasks that would be required in any other administration role.

It is a cliché but you really do reap what you sow, and as well as looking great on a CV, volunteering leaves you with a huge sense of accomplishment. It is definitely an activity I would recommend, and something that I will look to embrace further in the future.