It’s Adult Learners’ Week and Felicitie Walls, Volunteer Manager at WCVA, reflects through her own volunteering journey on the role volunteering can play as an opportunity to learn, whatever our age or stage of life.
Through my own journey to and through volunteering, I recognise the power such activity has to prepare us for learning, to inspire us to delve deeper into topics and into ourselves, to learn and better understand our communities (however that is defined) and how to share our learning for the benefit of others.
As a child and young person, my interests morphed into social action, as I found my way into awareness raising, campaigning and fundraising activities.
Through these experiences I learnt how to communicate my passions, to ignite an interest in others and to influence my peers (and their families) to contribute towards the cause.
Similar examples, of children and young people learning new skills can be found all over Wales, from Cai, a volunteer with Karma Seas in Bridgend, to Bilal, who started volunteering at the age of 17.
BECOMING A VOLUNTEER AS AN ADULT
Being involved in social action early in life prepared me for volunteering as an adult. Something the UK #iwill movement advocates, as a reason for getting all children and young people engaging with social action.
The year I spent volunteering prior to university was hugely formative, I learnt about my potential, made new connections and it ultimately informed my career choice, as I desired to create access to volunteering for others, so that they too could experience the joy of making a difference.
Volunteering during university was, in my opinion the best decision I made, over and above, my course choice, where I lived, and which other clubs I joined (Breakdancing… what was I thinking?!)
Volunteering in the community of Swansea (thanks to staff at Swansea Council for Voluntary Service, SCVS, and Discovery Student Volunteering Swansea) enabled me to learn about the REAL community (its treasures, pleasures and alternatives) of Swansea and surrounding areas, beyond university life and breakdancing.
VOLUNTEERING OPENS OTHER LEARNING AVENUES
Through volunteering I gained access to courses, some accredited, like First Aid, and others specific to my role, such as being a volunteer befriender, engaging with young people and taking a sign language course. Each time I volunteered, I was adding valuable experience to my CV and learning a little more about what I wanted to achieve in both my work life and personal life beyond university, whilst giving something back to a nation I was learning to love.
There is a renewed sense of focus for many providers of education. Access to volunteering opportunities are becoming more visible within the wider curriculum, which has emphasised the value of ‘learning by experience’ and building your connections and pathways into formal education.
Kelly, a student in Cardiff, shares how her placement in a voluntary organisation helped her access further education.
For me, volunteering through university enabled me to get my first job, starting the day after graduating, with SCVS, as the Youth Volunteer Advisor – my absolute dream job at the time! This role was only advertised to volunteers and staff, I would never have heard about if not for being a volunteer!
MY VOLUNTEERING DID NOT STOP THERE
I have continued to volunteer throughout my employed adult life, as a mentor, a coach, a trustee, at events, as a fundraiser, on judging panels and developing networks. I’ve become more adventurous in the roles I seek, or agree to, recognising the greater value that I give and gain when I am adequately challenged (food for thought for individuals or companies looking for upskilling as part of learning and development journeys).
I’m often asked why? Why continue to give your time for free?
Mostly, it’s because I recognise the power I have to contribute to making a change, which I anticipate came from that social action I got involved with as a child. But secondly, and most relevant to Adult Learners Week, is that volunteering enables me to learn.
As a mentor, I keep abreast of the challenges young people are facing today and keep my own mentoring skills alive and kicking. As a trustee, I learn how a charity operates, how to problem solve and manage difficult scenarios. As a network volunteer, I learn how to engage with a diverse range of people, I gain nuggets of wisdom from members, and I am constantly challenged to keep my digital skills refreshed!
VOLUNTEERING GIVES YOU TOOLS TO LEARN AND OPENS DOORS TO NEW OPPORTUNITIES
So, for those of you reading this blog and thinking about volunteering, , I believe volunteering is one of the absolutely best ways to learn! Experiential learning, ‘learning by experience’, is embedded within thousands of college and university courses and will be a valuable part of the new curriculum in Wales. The capacity of volunteering for upskilling and reskilling is also not lost on employers, with many offering Employer Supported Volunteering schemes, in which they enable staff to ‘volunteer’ some of their working time.
There is also a relatively new project that is taking place in health and social care, aptly named ‘Volunteer to Career’, in which the value of volunteering as a route to employment is fully realised by enabling those that wish to enter health and social care fields of employment – many people benefit from volunteering in roles such as ward volunteer in a hospital or a volunteer activity assistant in a care home.
My final words. Take the leap, search for opportunities today on www.volunteering-wales.net and my advice, don’t just think about what skills or experiences you already bring to the table, but what skills you would like to gain!
If you would like to search for volunteering opportunities – search hundreds of opportunities across Wales at www.volunteering-wales-net.
If you are an organisation, looking for guidance and information on volunteering recruitment please visit the TSSW (Third Sector Support Wales) Knowledge Hub.
If you would like to help volunteers turn their experience into skills for employment, there is a useful infographic and presentation available.
If you would like to share your story about your volunteering learning, please get in touch with the Volunteering team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find out more about Adult Learners Week at adultlearnersweek.wales.