A Springboard to Tomorrow
Creating Volunteer Programs for Young People
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Introducing this guide
Economic forces shaping the future for youth
Social factors affecting youth
Youth as a community resource
The potential of volunteer work
Benefits to young people of volunteering
The concept of skills transfer
Essential skills sought by employers today
Categories of skills
Creating the right environment
The crucial role of the program leader or supervisor
Recruiting youth volunteers
Placing Youth Volunteers
Legal and liability issues specific to young people
Orientation and training
Supervision and support
Assessment of performance
Recognition of youth volunteers
Documenting volunteer work
The Volunteer Career Portfolio
A Inventory of Marketable Skills: Core skills and transferable skills
B The Skills Profile: Examples for selected volunteer positions
C The Volunteer Career Portfolio: Sample documents
D Volunteer to a Career: Example of a brochure for recruiting youth
Theorists in career development have long stressed the importance of providing young people with realistic experiences that will allow them to better understand both themselves and the world of salaried work. With today's youth poised to enter a job market dramatically different from that of a generation ago, the need for such experiences is greater now than ever before. Volunteer work offers great potential in addressing this need.
As young people prepare to make the transition from school to the workplace, they can gain enormous advantages from volunteering. It provides them with opportunities for personal growth, practical work experience and skills development. Grounded in the ethic of social responsibility, volunteering is also a form of education for citizenship that young people will carry over to their adult civic life.
In the tough economic times of the 1990s, voluntary organizations across the country are obliged to meet growing needs with shrinking resources. It is thus vital to ensure an adequate corps of trained volunteers in our communities. Although their potential has been largely untapped to date, young people have a lot to offer as volunteers.
The ultimate aim of this book is to encourage more youth involvement in Canadian voluntary organizations. Given their mandate to promote volunteerism at the community level, volunteer centres are seen as the primary target audience. As the hub of a broad network of local organizations, volunteer centres are in an excellent position to champion this cause. Many are already doing that.
The information provided in this guide will, hopefully, also prove useful to voluntary organizations interested either in developing a volunteer program specifically for young people or in integrating more youth volunteers into existing programs. The suggestions are relevant both to young people who approach an organization on their own and to students who are involved in community work as part of a school-based program.
The framework proposed here for creating youth volunteer programs focuses on the development of skills as the `hook' for attracting youth volunteers. Advice is offered on how to help young people cultivate specific skills that can be transferred to the labour market. While specifically designed for young people in the 16-to-24 age bracket, the approach proposed could, in fact, be used for volunteers in any age group.
I would like to extend a very special thanks to the following people, who took time out of their busy schedules to critically review drafts of this guide.
From volunteer centres: Lorraine Street of Volunteer Ontario; Joanne Cooper of the Volunteer Centre of Metro Toronto; Martha Parker and Keith Seel of the Volunteer Centre of Calgary; Marilyn Box and Paula Speevak-Sladowski of the Volunteer Centre of Ottawa-Carleton; Sandra Murphy of the Volunteer Centre in St John's, Newfoundland; and Kevin Cohalan, Michèle Provost, and Marissa Gelfusa of the Montreal Volunteer Bureau.
From youth groups and youth programs: Alam Rahman of the Youth Action Network; Heather Gow of the YMCA-YWCA of Ottawa-Carleton.
From government departments responsible for youth or skills development: Gary Magorel, Doreen Phimister and Brenda Hoover from the Youth Career Development Programs of Manitoba Education and Training; Margaret Connor and Jo-Ann Hunt from the Learning and Employment Preparation Branch of the Ontario Training and Adjustment Board; Larry Diachun and Aryeh Gitterman from the Career and Adult Education Directorate of the Ontario Ministry of Education and Training; Jan Broocke of the British Columbia Ministry of Skills, Training and Labour; Debra Mair from the Occupational and Career Information Directorate of Human Resources Development Canada; and Linda Searson from the Youth Participation Program of Canadian Heritage.
A human resources specialist: Milena Menghetti from Human Resources at the Calgary Public Library.
Coming from a wide variety of perspectives, their comments were invaluable in helping me arrive at the final version of this text.
Economic forces shaping the future for youth
Young people today face unprecedented pressures as they prepare for the future. Entry into the labour market has become very challenging in the 1990s, and jobs are far less secure. Many occupations have been altered in significant ways, and some traditional jobs have already disappeared. Constant change now characterizes the job market.
The unemployment rate for the 16-to-24 age group is much higher than for older Canadians. Jobs are particularly hard to find for those who have few skills. The need for unskilled workers has already declined so drastically that there are scarcely enough jobs for adults, much less for young people who have had little chance to develop skills.
Only a few decades ago, most young people could find work quickly. The standard of living was on the rise, and their prospects were generally bright, even if they had not had extensive schooling. As long as they were competent and hard-working, their jobs seemed as solid as bedrock. However, the economy and the labour market have changed radically since then and this trend is expected to continue at an even faster pace.
Technological advance, increasing global competition, shifts in the demand for goods and services, and changes in business practices will have a major impact on tomorrow's job market. The workplace of the future will demand highly skilled and creative workers who are flexible enough to adapt to constant change. It is now taken for granted that the workers of the future will have to change jobs, even occupations, at least several times during their working lives.
Another striking feature of the new economic environment is the need for lifelong learning. To keep up with change and remain employable, virtually everyone will have to continue acquiring new knowledge and skills. The days when education ended with graduation are gone.
Today's workplace is already demanding a higher level of skills and a different set of skills. More and more jobs require employees who can communicate effectively, work well in a team context, make sound decisions, solve problems and demonstrate creativity.
Opportunities for a `job with a future' are rapidly shrinking for those who lack the requisite skills. Without relevant skills, young people will have limited job choices and may face low wages, dead-end jobs, and possibly even chronic unemployment.
On the other hand, new doors are opening for those with the right skills. The link between skills and opportunities is more critical than ever before. Skills are now seen as vital for young people to make a successful transition into the new work environment and to stay employed in a volatile economy.
The conditions of adolescence and early adulthood are very different from previous generations. In the past, an agricultural and early industrial society required huge numbers of workers, and people were absorbed into the labour force at a very young age.
In modern society, young people have many more years of formal education. The period of youth has increasingly become defined as a time to prepare for entrance into the world of adulthood and employment. Yet, while society compels young people to defer their entry into adult roles, it offers little for them to do in the intervening years. There is no doubt that this perception of youth as a waiting period has influenced what young people are expected to do in our society and has severely restricted the social roles they are allowed to play. The experiences open to young people are very limited. There are few opportunities to take on responsibilities, do meaningful work and make a positive contribution to the community. As a result, most young people are isolated from the productive tasks of society.
Ironically, it is precisely at this point in their life that young people begin to define their self-worth in terms of what they are able to do and what kind of impact they have on their surroundings. For this reason, young people urgently need to explore alternatives that will be available to them as adults. By denying them a meaningful role in our society, we prolong their dependence, undermine their self-esteem, and impair their capacity to take action. Society asks them to take on a nebulous future without the proper preparation.
In addition, many of the messages that young people get from the community are negative. According to the popular stereotype, young people are self-absorbed, aimless, resistant to authority, apathetic, and devoid of concern for anyone beyond their immediate circle of peers. The media emphasis on youth crime and violence has also fuelled this negative image of young people in general.
Most adults probably do not hold such unfair and prejudiced views of young people. However, research shows clearly that the vast majority of young people think that they do. And, it is likely that this perception has been an added disincentive to young people to become more involved in their community.
Because of these social factors, young people are a volunteer resource that remains largely untapped to date. Yet, experience has shown that the problem is not a lack of willingness to get involved on the part of young people. When respected for their abilities and given the proper support, most young people are, in fact, keen to become active in their community.
For community organizations, the advantages of integrating youth volunteers are immediate and practical. With the proper training and support, there is virtually no limit to what young people are able to do. Collectively, they can make an enormous contribution to the community as a whole.
Whether they serve as front-line volunteers or on committees and boards, young people are valuable assets to our organizations. In addition to their immense energy and enthusiasm, they offer creative ideas and new perspectives. They can also offer input and feedback on programs that provide service to young people. Benefits to the organizations make the investment of time well worthwhile.
If we provide settings where something important depends on their efforts, we show young people that they deserve a significant place in our society. We offer them the opportunity to prove their potential and to use their abilities in ways that are both meaningful to them and useful to our organizations.
Also, when young people channel their talents into helping others and solving community problems, they build personal commitment to their community and to the welfare of its citizens. Through volunteering, they gain a deeper understanding of their own stake in the broader community.
Success feeds on itself. As young people learn new skills, become more competent, and receive recognition for their achievements, they will likely want to get more involved. In encouraging young people to volunteer, we are helping to build the habits and attitudes of good citizens and thus developing a new generation of volunteers. The possibilities are exciting, and the promise is enormous.
To become competent and responsible adults, young people need opportunities to explore various roles, to learn how to make good decisions and solve problems, to test their judgment under pressure, and to take on leadership roles. Positive, practical experiences are needed for young people to develop strong self-concepts.
Volunteer work can fill the vacuum of experience for young people and thus help bridge the gulf between formal education and paid work. `Hands-on' experience as a volunteer can lead to new perspectives and insights that are unlikely to come from textbooks and lectures. It could also give young people the edge when it comes to winning a scholarship or getting into a post-secondary program which restricts enrolment to the most qualified students. Also, some colleges and universities now recognize skills acquired through volunteer work for academic credit.
The National Survey of Volunteer Activity in Canada of 1987 showed that 90 per cent of youth volunteers felt that they had gained skills and/or knowledge in their volunteer roles. As volunteers, young people have a wide range of opportunities to acquire practical knowledge and valuable skills. They have the chance to discover their strengths, display their talents and master new skills. Equally important, young people can learn their personal limits and recognize which skills they need to develop further.
Volunteer work is an excellent way to develop interests and skills for future employment in many areas public relations, finance, organizational management, education and training, science and technology, arts and culture, sports and recreation, law and justice not just in social and health services. In fact, volunteering offers a broader spectrum of possibilities for young people than paid jobs. Since voluntary organizations are active in countless areas, the opportunities are almost limitless.
The Conference Board of Canada, together by many other experts, has predicted that employment growth in the 1990s will be primarily in service industries. Job prospects are expected to be particulary good in health and social services (to meet the needs of the aging baby boom population) and in education and training (to meet the need for upgraded skills and reorientation to new careers).
Since there are many volunteer opportunities in these areas, volunteer work is clearly a viable way for young people to gain relevant skills and work experience. In addition, the trend a service economy means a greater emphasis on `people skills'. And, what could be a better way to hone these skills than volunteering.
Since more and more employers now accept volunteering as valid part of work history, volunteer experiences have become marketable in employment settings. Volunteering can thus help young people make a smoother transition to the world of paid work, to a new type of job or to a new career. It also has the potential of improving access to meaningful employment. (To be meaningful, a job must allow us to use our potential and have personal value to us.)
In addition to helping young people get the qualifications they need to find entry-level employment in an area of interest, volunteer work can improve their future prospects in the labour market. It can help make life-long learning an integral part of their adult life.
Given its tremendous potential, volunteer work could be particularly valuable to young people `at risk'. Because of socio-economic disadvantage, disabilities, or alienation from mainstream culture, certain young people are at greater risk of being lost to society as productive individuals. Their prospects for the future, both as workers and as involved citizens, could become more promising through positive volunteer experiences.
Volunteer work is amazingly versatile in that it allows individuals to accomplish multiple objectives, both altruistic and pragmatic. In giving their time to help others, young people are also able to help themselves.
Volunteers and professionals in the field have long felt that volunteer work fosters personal, social, and intellectual development in young people. It can also help young people in future job searches and job interviews. A growing body of research now supports this experience.
The following are examples of the many potential benefits that volunteering offers young people:
`Skills' is a shorthand term for the whole set of talents, traits and practical knowledge that each of us possesses. Skills are specialized abilities to do things well the expertise that allows us to use our knowledge readily and effectively to perform a given task.
Rooted in talent or aptitude, skills are developed through a variety of life experiences such as formal education, training, paid work, volunteer work, leisure activities, even our home and family life. Skills are not static; existing skills can be sharpened and new skills learned through practice and experience.
Some skills are closely related to personality or character traits in that they seem to be an intrinsic part of an individual's nature. However, if a trait can be developed further, it can legitimately be considered to be a skill. For example, we can learn to become more organized or to improve our performance in stressful situations.
Regardless of age, we all have our own unique set of skills which build our self-confidence and add to our self-esteem. Certain skills give us a lot of personal satisfaction, and these tend to be the ones that we are best at. To be enjoyable, any job we undertake must allow us to use a high proportion of such skills.
Skills are critical to functioning in the world of work, and they are directly related to productivity and job satisfaction. Many skills are not limited to a single type of job, occupation or work setting. Known as transferable skills, these can be applied in a wide variety of contexts and tasks.
Most of the skills valued in the today's labour market cut a wide swath across many occupational boundaries and work situations. For example, the ability to communicate effectively in writing is valued in business, government, educational institutions and voluntary organizations alike.
Transferable skills provide a base that enables a person to adapt to new activities, new work situations or even an entirely new type of job with relative ease (that is, with a minimum of preparation and training). For example, the organizational skills used to coordinate a fundraising event for a community charity are relevant to, and thus transferable to, a wide variety of positions in the salaried workplace.
Skills are used in varying combinations to accomplish specific tasks. If two tasks have elements of a skill in common, mastering one task should help you learn the second.
Transferable skills increase an individual's employability, or capacity to find a job. They are thus marketable.
Essential skills sought by employers today
Some skills have a higher `transfer value' than others. These are the ones that employers and labour leaders judge to be the most crucial, regardless of the employment setting and the precise nature of the job.
After consulting with a broad spectrum of representatives from business, education, labour and government, The Conference Board of Canada's Corporate Council on Education has identified the types of skills that are considered essential for the workforce of the 1990s and beyond. The same views are echoed in recent international reports (cited in the resource list).
The generic skills that employers deem to be the most critical for the labour force of today and tomorrow are:
In addition, current literature stresses the need for workers who are able to cope with and adapt to new challenges in the workplace resulting from rapid technological and organizational change. It is also assumed that computer literacy will be a pre-requisite for most jobs in the future.
In order to understand more fully the array of possibilities, we need to examine skills in greater detail. It should be noted, however, that there is no generally accepted method or even terminology for identifying and categorizing skills. Because of this, there is a tendency for different people to call the same thing by a different name. Also, some specialists group skills very broadly, while others prefer to dissect skills very finely.
It is important to bear in mind that each skill represents a continuum with many levels of difficulty and complexity (known as the `skills dimension'). Individuals have different levels of competence in a given skill, and different positions will require different levels of a given skill.
Skills can be divided into three major categories, as follows.
Core skills form the foundation for a wide variety of tasks and are essential for competence in these tasks. All of these skills are basic in the sense that they are needed by virtually everyone in workplace in the 1990s.
Core skills lie in the area of reading, writing, numeracy, oral communication, thinking, memory, social skills, motor coordination and self-management.
Transferable skills are a higher order than core skills. Since they are needed in wide variety of jobs in many different organizations, these skills can be transferred from one work setting to another. Thus, workplace skills are, by definition, marketable.
Transferable skills relate to such areas as interpersonal relations, oral communication, written communication, teaching, supervising, leadership, organizing people or things, problem-solving, analyzing, creative thinking, and computer literacy.
Every job requires its unique combination of transferable skills, or `skill clusters'. For example, to work in community relations, you would need interpersonal skills, oral communication skills, creative thinking skills, persuading skills and probably also advanced writing and public speaking skills.
Job-specific skills enable a person to undertake tasks related to a particular job or occupation. These skills are generally not transferable (at least not in a broad sense) because they are closely tied to the content of a particular job, to established standards and specifications, or to specialized knowledge.
Three examples are: the operation of a data analysis system which was custom-designed for an organization, the application of specialized knowledge to the development of a new technology, and the identification of specific symptoms related to physical or mental health.
Please refer to Appendix A for a more comprehensive listing of `core' and `transferable' skills, as well as information on the origins of the classification scheme used in this guide.
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|Last updated : 1998/10/26|