Young people looking to get the edge in the jobs market could benefit from international volunteering work, according to new research from UK government funded development programme, International Citizen Service (ICS), released today (Tuesday 11 June).  

The YouGov survey commissioned by ICS, reveals that nearly two thirds (62 per cent) of decision makers from small and medium enterprises surveyed  agree that international volunteering can equip young people with the skills they need for the workplace here in the UK. 

ICS brings together 18-25 year olds in the UK, from all walks of life, with young people from 24 developing countries to fight poverty. The programme is led by VSO in partnership with respected development organisations, and is calling for more young people to take up international volunteering opportunities as a way of building transferable skills for the workplace.

When asked which three skills and qualities they most value in young people entering the workforce, over half (54 per cent) of respondents most value communications skills, closely followed by self motivation (53 per cent) and problem solving skills (50 per cent). 

Nearly a third (32 per cent) of those polled think there is an increase in young people referencing volunteering in their CVs and job interviews compared to two years ago. Furthermore, over a fifth (21 per cent) said that the volunteering experience of a young job applicant had persuaded them to employ them over someone without volunteering experience. 

Jos Schut, UK HR Director at sector specialist recruiter Randstad, said: “We know that trying to find new ways to make yourself stand out in the jobs market isn’t easy for young people.  

“Volunteering overseas shows your willingness to take on some of the world’s biggest issues, like tackling poverty, as well as a desire to develop key skills for your career. A well-structured programme that involves challenging work for young volunteers can help you to develop practical skills like project management, teamwork and communications skills as well as providing a unique opportunity to work cross culturally. This kind of learning experience provides a strong foundation for all sorts of careers and can be a huge asset to employers in many different fields.”

Brian Rockliffe, Director of ICS, said: “We know it can be challenging for young people in the UK to navigate the jobs market. For young people in developing countries it’s also a huge problem, exacerbated by issues like lack of access to education.

“ICS is a unique learning journey for young people from the UK and from developing countries. They share cultures, build transferable skills together by working on real projects, and then take that experience back home to bring about lasting change. We welcome the survey results as solid backing from the business world that young people volunteering on well structured international programmes gain sought-after skills.”

What ICS volunteers said:

David Dube, 25, from Halifax, volunteered in Mali and is now a trainee tax advisor. He said: “Without ICS I believe I would still be looking for work. At my job interview I could demonstrate things other people just talk about: team-building, project management, working to tight deadlines. They said my experience in Mali showed drive and determination which they could foster. Really people should think of ICS as an internship because it gives you professional skills which you can use in any job.”

Natalia Peralta Silverstone, 21, from Prestwich, Manchester, volunteered in Nicaragua and is now working at a recruitment and advertising agency. She said: “The confidence and communication skills I gained through ICS have really helped me in my current job. Whether it was my team mates from the UK, the local community, or the counterpart volunteers from Nicaragua, the way I grew in confidence and worked with really different kinds of people on ICS is something that’s helping me now. The challenges we faced overseas means I now feel at ease communicating to all sorts of people. ICS makes you realise how many hours are in the day and how you can put them to good use, I came back really driven and motivated.”

Frank Fallon, 26, from Welwyn Garden City, volunteered in Zambia and is now working as a team leader at The Prince’s Trust. He said: “To get a job at the moment, regardless of whether you've got a degree or skills, it's tough if you've not got experience. Three months' working overseas is massive and you get a different understanding of what actually goes on in the world, which is a huge asset to employers nowadays. I found the most important thing in countries like Zambia is community, community, community. To get that wider understanding of how to work effectively with different types of people and take that to an employer, is great. In any job you get, you're going to need those skills.”

Laura Williams, 24, from Brighton, volunteered in Zambia and is now working for a nationwide environmental programme called Groundwork. She said: “ICS gives you the chance to try your hand at so many different disciplines, whether it’s project management, fundraising or communications, it’s great way to help you establish what you’re good at and what you might want to do in your career. Ultimately they’re skills you can transfer to any job.”

Volunteering with ICS gives young people around the world the chance to spend 10-12 weeks contributing to wider development projects where plans are set in partnership with the community. Volunteers become an integral part of the community, living and working alongside local people. After their placement volunteers undertake social action projects in their home communities. 

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