Involving volunteers in your careers provision

One would have to be comatose to miss the Government’s very vocal call urging schools to involve volunteers in providing careers information to our young people. So vocal in fact that they have backed up their idea with £20m to run the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) for 2 years.

The CEC role is to act as a brokerage service between schools and businesses, bringing to the attention of the head teacher the various activities that are available in their local area.

So knowing that this support is available locally, just how does one use volunteers in a purposeful and mutually useful way?

“Events with volunteers only work well if the teachers involved are fully committed and invest time in achieving a good match between volunteers and students”

How working with volunteers from the world of work can boost your careers information and advice provision in line with Ofsted’s Common Inspection Framework
Education and Employers in association with the Career Development Institute (CDI)

This, for many, is the crux of the conundrum. Our schools may have access to wonderful connections with business, but just how do we free up the capacity within our schools to make the most of the opportunities that exist?

Anyone with any connection to education knows just how hard-pressed teachers are, so finding capacity anywhere within the school is often problematic. I can’t solve that problem for you, but I can point you in the direction of good practice.

The Gatsby benchmarks for careers have been universally applauded as an excellent foundation to build good careers provision upon.

The first benchmark is that of a stable careers programme. The programme will be devised by the school to address their own agenda. Examples could be the need to raise aspirations, improve the number of girls going into STEM occupations, or simply to ensure that all students end up on the right path when they leave school.

Everything else that is provided will fit into that framework and help to achieve the objectives set by this programme. So where do volunteers fit in?

Learning from career and labour market information – what skills gaps are local companies facing? Could they come in and work with the geography or maths department to look at these skills gaps? This has the additional advantage of linking curriculum learning to careers. Could they do short talks for students who are interested in working in those industries? Or more to the point, could they be used to illustrate that many jobs take place in many industries, for example an accountant could work in a theatre, or a building site. Any of those activities would be an encounter with employers and employees.

Mentors are a fantastic opportunity for addressing the needs of each student. One of the most quoted uses for volunteers is raising aspirations. However, in my experience of over 18 years in charge of careers in urban schools, I find most young people have audacious aspirations, some are vocal about their dreams, others won’t admit them, sometimes even to themselves. The element that stands between student’s aspirations and success are often varied, but respond favourably to mentoring, including:

  • The reality that these aspirations don’t just happen because you want them to, but because you’ve worked hard to achieve them
  • The ‘how’ just isn’t clear
  • The ability to see themselves in the dreamed-of role due to lack of confidence and/or suitable role models
  • A mismatch between exam grades and aspirations

Experiences of workplaces. Visits don’t have to be ‘careers’ visits. A little imagination opens possibilities to many subject-based workplace visits. PE visits to leisure centres and history visits to historic properties and museums provide opportunities to consider who works there, performing arts visits to theatres, film studios etc to offer the chance to view the creative progress, workshops with the armed forces offer opportunities for discussion of ethics in RE.

Encounters with further and higher education. Practically all colleges and universities now have wonderful widening participation departments that provide taster days and workshops for various subject areas and employability skills.

So back to the thorny problem of finding the capacity. It may help to get hold of the excellent Why Does Employer Engagement Matter? A tool kit for managing employer activities in schools and colleges, which can be downloaded free of charge from the CDI website.

Finally, the 8th Gatsby benchmark – personal guidance. Never forget that volunteers are not professional advisers or coaches. Ensuring that you have in post a level 6 qualified careers guidance professional, preferably one that is on the CDI Register of Professionals. They are the people that support your students to make sense of all the wonderful opportunities and pieces of advice that your volunteers have exposed them to.


Article by Janet Colledge, careers education consultant

Follow Janet on twitter @CareersDefender

Visit her website www.outstandingcareers.co.uk