One would imagine that the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Civil Society would have some understanding about volunteering and charities. Particularly as he has been in this role for over 2 years. However it appears that Rob Wilson MP is blithely ignorant about voluntary work and also about the needs of young people. He has just announced an independent review to look at the challenges and benefits of young people committing to full- time voluntary social action – classed as more than 16 hours per week for at least six months. In a comment he made about a new proposal “Full-time volunteering can provide meaning and purpose, as well as allowing young people to gain the skills they need to transition into full-time work or study. I want to make sure that we encourage as many young people as possible to get involved and make a difference in their communities, building a society for everyone.”
The idea that the young people concerned who will presumably have emerged from many years full time study at School, lack the ‘skills’ needed to transition into full time study or work suggests that they have been failed by professional educators or are deeply demotivated for one reason or another. To address such a gap in a six month period would require intensive support and education and such things can cost a great deal of money. There are of course many very fulfilling opportunities in the voluntary sector for people of all ages to benefit from, as they work to serve other people. However the supervision and training required to begin such roles demands a great deal from the charities involved. I formed a charity that runs the Brighton & Hove FareShare scheme, one that relies extensively on volunteers. However we need to train these people in skills such as manual handling and food hygiene and then they require on the job training or mentoring. The resources required for this are costly in both time and money. The nature of the work is that most volunteers do one to two 4-6 hour shifts a week, which fits in well with the availability of other people and means that new volunteers can go out on routes with others and learn life skills from them over time in an informal manner. However this approach means that volunteers ate needed over a longer periods of time than six months if FareShare is to get the value from the commitment it makes in terms of paying for the training, the cost of managing and supervising the volunteers and if the model of volunteering is to work in a meaningful way. Of course ours is merely one form of volunteering, but I have many other examples I could write about to illustrate that blocks of time that are short and intensive are very challenging for charities unless those who come are already very well prepared and bring skills with them. Volunteering for such charities can be rewarding and inspiring, but these charities are not set up for training young people who lack basic skills or motivation. They are set up as the Rob Wilson suggests to carry out social action, and they train people to do this work just as any employer would, but that is a means to an end. They also need volunteers who want to carry out this work, not people who feel they are obliged to participate. Occasionally charities like FareShare can involve people carrying out community service but such people do usually bring life skills into the charity and usually they are only placed in the charity for a few hours at a time, unlike the young people in Rob Wilsons big plan. There are of course charities such as the YMCA and many others that have extensive experience of preparing young people who feel unable to enter work or further education to do so. However to do this work costs money and there is no indication that Mr Wilson intends to release large sums to make his plan a reality. I am confident that the review will lead to a different outcome from the naive idea that Mr Wilson seems to be expounding in his latest plan, and perhaps his own ignorance will be reduced.