September 17, 2014, by Jacqui Storey
September sees the commencement of a new academic year and many of our volunteering projects get underway once more. One long-standing scheme, the Undergraduate Community Internship Programme, starts in the first week of term and I’m busy tying up all the loose ends and preparing for the induction which is supported by the Careers and Employability Service. The programme involves undergraduate students from a range of degree courses volunteering for a day a week in a local voluntary/community organisation. This year’s cohort are a mix of 2nd and 3rd years from Geography, Philosophy, Management Studies, Law, English and History.
I source projects with organisations looking for particular skills such as the ability to conduct research, expertise in social media or policy development. I typically ask an organisation, “Is there a piece of work sitting to one side that you’d do if only you had an enthusiastic, skilled volunteer?” I’m usually met with a positive response and together we create an opportunity that results in satisfied students and organisations.
The students are recruited in the spring via application and interview, giving them valuable experience of the recruitment process. As well as volunteering they will complete a module of the Nottingham Advantage Award which supports them with reflecting on the employability skills gained whilst on placement. Gaining such skills is one of the reasons students give up a chunk of their time each week and it has paid dividends for previous years’ students who tell me how valuable the experience was in gaining jobs after graduation. A survey recently carried out by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) found that employers value work experience and volunteering, especially where students ‘make the experience count’. The Advantage Award supports this with self-assessment tools and reflective practices. Placements also help to prepare students for the work readiness and stamina AGR says employers seek from graduates.
As the students return to Nottingham in the next few days I have no doubt they will be apprehensive about their placement. How will they fit it in with their studies? Will they be able to do what’s expected of them? What if it all goes wrong? Making sure we avoid these pitfalls is my job and the time invested at this time of year in preparing the induction and talking to our partners in the community should help to ensure that our 6th year is as successful as the previous 5. Look out for a blog later in the year from one of the students during their placement.
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