Volunteer glut boosts young workers' skills

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 12:58 09/06/2014
Cawthron Institute open day
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ
WORTHWHILE: Volunteer Brett Hilton at Natureland Zoo says he would rather be doing something productive than sitting ‘‘on my backside’’.

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Increasing numbers of young people are electing to volunteer in the workforce to improve their job prospects, with volunteer agencies now struggling to find enough roles.

Volunteer Nelson manager Katy Steele said more than 650 people registered with the service in the year to April, and it was now struggling to find enough roles for willing volunteers who had a range of skills, education and abilities.

The increase had happened as the service for registering had moved online.

"We are now attracting more young people, more of whom are seeking new skills with the aim of getting into employment."

She said it was not uncommon for those who volunteered to go on and get employment, not necessarily for the organisation they had volunteering for, but elsewhere.

Science student Katy Woodward, 25, was taking a break from university to recover from illness, and had decided to volunteer as a way of gaining new skills before heading back to study.

The former Nelson College for Girls student plans to complete her science degree at Victoria University, but has opted for a gap year to recover at home in Nelson from chronic fatigue syndrome following a bout of glandular fever.

Woodward said she decided to volunteer and get some work experience before looking for a job to earn some money for study. She was working in an administration role at Volunteer Nelson, and helping to organise its upcoming anniversary event. The service, which operates with 1.8 fulltime staff and eight volunteers (plus more for special events) will celebrate 20 years in operation on June 19.

Woodward said she was taken on after she "walked in the door" saying she was looking for volunteer work.

She was aware there were several others her age offering to volunteer.

Steele said measures were in place to protect volunteers from being exploited. Volunteer Nelson only worked with community organisations. It had 160 organisations on its books.

Steele said it was "incredibly valuable" for any young person to volunteer, particularly as more employers seemed to be asking young people during job interviews what volunteering they had done.

"It's becoming an increasing requirement to be able to identify that people seeking employment are not just doing things for themselves, but aiming to help others.

"It's so hard for young people to get on the work ladder."

Steele said in some countries students could log their volunteer hours so they could use them on their CVs. Others could use them as credits to get into university.

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"I would say that it's really valuable for a CV, to be able to prove or identify you have been doing voluntary work," Steele said.

The latest six-monthly report from the Nelson Regional Economic Development Agency showed that youth employment in the region has been on a downward trend. The number in fulltime employment had fallen in the past year and those in part-time work or apprenticeships had increased slightly.

According to figures from Statistics New Zealand: Household Labour Force Survey and Nelson-Tasman Connections, by the end of 2013, just over a quarter of

Nelson-Tasman youth (27 per cent) were in paid employment, compared to 36.5 per cent nationally.

Woodward said it was better to be out in the community doing something than sitting at home doing nothing.

"It's really good to be out meeting people, and helping the community is really nice. Just getting that work experience is really good."

Steele said volunteers signed up offering to do a range of work, from working in retail, IT, administration and sports fields. Working with animals was "very popular", she said.

Brett Hilton is volunteering 35-40 hours a week doing maintenance work at Natureland. The 24-year-old painter and decorator from England recently arrived in Nelson and hopes to gain residency in New Zealand. The keen mountainbiker was drawn to Nelson for its outdoors and lifestyle and has family here.

Hilton said he decided to volunteer before making a decision on what he wanted to do, and signed up with Volunteer Nelson after finding its website.

"I thought when I came here it would be good to volunteer. I like building and maintenance work.

"I'd rather do that than be on my backside whiling away the time. I wanted to help someone else out and I feel better if I've done a week's work."

Volunteer Nelson will mark its 20th birthday on June 19 with a "speed volunteer matching" event for anyone interested in a fun way to find out about volunteering and to meet some community organisations seeking volunteers. It will be from 5.30pm to 7.30pm in central Nelson, at a venue to be announced. To gauge interest, those interested are asked to rsvp to admin@volunteernelson.org.nz or phone 03 546 7681.

VOLUNTARY WORK

In Nelson more than 650 people registered to do volunteer work with Volunteer Nelson in the year to April.

The New Zealand General Social Survey found that from April 2012 to March 2013: 31 per cent of New Zealanders did voluntary work and 62 per cent did unpaid work.

28 per cent of young adults aged 15-24 did voluntary work and 62.5 per cent did unpaid work.

The figures were similar in prime working age group 25-44.

33 per cent of those aged 45-64 did voluntary work and 64 per cent did unpaid work.

35 per cent of people aged 65 and over did voluntary work and 52 per cent did unpaid work. -

- The Nelson Mail

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