Volunteering to develop your skills

If you have little or no work experience, it can be difficult to find suitable work. Work can seem daunting. Maybe you’ve not worked before, or have not been in work for a long time. Or perhaps being around new people is difficult for you. Whatever your reason, volunteering can help you to gain new skills and build your confidence.

Volunteering and your benefits

Will volunteering affect your benefits? Sometimes. You can volunteer and still get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) but there are rules about:

  • what counts as volunteering
  • if your volunteering counts as looking for work
  • how many hours you can volunteer for

To count as volunteering, what you’re doing needs to be:

  • for someone who is not a family member
  • unpaid
  • done without a contract

To count as looking for work, it can help to show that:

  • your volunteering is likely to help you find a job
  • it’s reasonable that you’re not being paid (check with your work coach)

If the volunteer role shows you’re now able to do things that you could not do in your Work Capability Assessment or PIP assessment, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) could decide to reduce your benefits.

Always get permission from your work coach before you start volunteering. Be:

  • specific about the kind of volunteering that you want to do
  • consistent when you’re talking about the activities that you can do
  • clear about how many hours you will be volunteering each week

Volunteering and benefits (NCVO)

How volunteering affects your benefits (Citizens Advice).

Preparing for the workplace

Volunteering is a great way to get used to working with colleagues or talking with customers.

It can lead to friendships and help you to develop your social skills and enjoy life. This can help you to build the skills you might need for interviews, such as holding eye contact and answering questions.

If you’ve volunteered to get work experience, you can:

  • learn specific skills, like time management or working in a team
  • get references from your manager to help you apply for paid work

Volunteering is also a way to show that skills you’ve learned in previous jobs are still current. This could reassure an employer if you’ve not been working for a while.

Volunteering can provide a safe space. If you find somewhere you feel comfortable, it’ll be easier to practise things like face-to-face communication and body language. It’s a good opportunity to:

  • learn from the people around you
  • become confident in different kinds of situations
  • understand what’s expected at work

Volunteering can mean more choice

There are some benefits to volunteering before going straight into paid work. You can:

  • choose the job and it can be something that you enjoy
  • work the hours you want (for example, a few hours or one day a week)
  • leave without it looking bad on your CV
  • find out what the job would really be like

What you're getting from volunteering

As well as being an important step towards employment, volunteering can help you to develop as a person. Ask yourself:

  • what motivates you to volunteer?
  • what do you want to learn?
  • what do you want to do in the
  • how long do you want to volunteer for?

Content adapted from Autism Guide

Volunteering – things to look out for

All volunteer roles are different. Make sure that you know what is expected of you and that you are happy with it.

Many organisations will provide you with a ‘volunteer agreement’, but they do not have to. These will usually say:

  • how much training you will get
  • how expenses are managed
  • the kind of support they will give you

A volunteer agreement is not a contract. Talk to the person managing your work and review your agreement if you feel that your volunteering is not going well.

Find out more about volunteer placements and your rights (GOV.UK).

You may want to volunteer somewhere that makes you feel comfortable. Or, you may wish to volunteer in a placement that offers you a challenge. What’s important is that the role is right for you. Ask to:

  • talk to the people you might be working with
  • see the place you’ll be working
  • see the type of work you’ll be doing

Volunteering is your choice

You should be there because you want to be. If you feel that you are being taken advantage of, you should speak to your manager about what you feel comfortable doing. If that does not work, try speaking to someone more senior. You do not have to put up with being taken advantage of or bullied. You can always find a better volunteering opportunity somewhere else.

What to do if you are treated badly as a volunteer (ncvo.org.uk).

Types of volunteering opportunities

Community projects

Some local organisations organise gardening and decorating projects. These can be perfect for learning practical skills.

Charity volunteering

Charity volunteering opportunities include retail jobs, fundraising at events and supporting others in the community. Volunteering for a charity can be satisfying, particularly if it’s your favourite charity or cause.

Internships

Supported internships

A programme for people who need support to move into work and who:

  • are between the ages of 16 to 24
  • have a statement of special educational needs (SEN) or an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan. They are run by colleges together with local businesses.

Paid internships

If you’re being paid to do an internship then you are a ‘worker’ or an ‘employee’. Workers and employees have more rights than volunteers. 

Unpaid internships

Unpaid internships are just volunteering. This type of volunteering can be more formal. Having a more defined role in an organisation can give you the chance to learn specific skills. If you are doing the same work as paid employees, or are not given the opportunity to learn new skills, then you could be being taken advantage of.

Internships and employment rights (gov.uk)

Websites like indeed.co.uk advertise paid jobs and internships.

Volunteering opportunities

You can search for opportunities online:

CharityJob features a wide range of charity volunteering roles.

Do-It allows you to search for all kinds of volunteering opportunities by entering your postcode or town.

Indeed is a job site that also advertises voluntary opportunities.

NCVO Volunteer Centre Finder can be used to find your local accredited Volunteer Centre, where you can find information and support for volunteering.

The Princes Trust is a charity that helps young people and they have many office-based volunteer opportunities. Some local authorities also offer volunteering opportunities.

Volunteering Wales offers lots of volunteering opportunities in Wales.

If there’s a place you want to volunteer, approach them and ask them if they have any opportunities.

Last reviewed by Scope on: 12/04/2018

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