Opinion: Hot issue - Are businesses doing their bit to support youth volunteering?

Speaking at a Treasury conference last week, Chancellor Gordon Brown said UK businesses should recognise people's volunteering experience when recruiting staff and give employees time off to do volunteer work.

NO - Julia Cleverdon, chief executive, Business in the Community

Businesses do not do enough to encourage youth volunteering. Those that have active community-involvement schemes and support voluntary action should be working to improve and increase the impact of their volunteering by sharing best practice with other businesses.

We must not forget that 16 to 24 year-olds are part of the workforce and businesses can use employee-volunteering schemes to support youth involvement. Businesses should recognise the benefits of volunteering and give credit to young people for the skills they develop from it. Volunteering allows young people to experience new possibilities, broaden their horizons, boost confidence and develop a sense of duty. It offers a greater perspective of life through giving, leading to a more responsible and socially aware workforce.

Volunteering is an excellent way to develop skills, and many businesses have made the link between community engagement and staff training and development. If, as a result of the Russell Commission's work, a national accreditation scheme for youth volunteers is developed, it is vital that employers buy into the value of the award -otherwise it may just end up as a worthless token.

NO - Moira Swinbank, chief executive, TimeBank

... but it's hardly surprising given the difficulties that the voluntary sector has in involving young people in volunteering - for a whole variety of reasons, relating to issues from insurance, through to a lack of opportunities or the resources to promote those that are attractive to a youth audience .

The relationship between voluntary organisations and companies is an evolving one and it is up to charities to harness the current vogue for employee volunteering within corporate social responsibility in more innovative and interesting ways that go beyond team-challenge days or charity of the year nominations.

Working in partnership, companies can help voluntary organisations to build their capacity to offer young people interesting and innovative volunteering opportunities. It is also important to remember that even though there is no payment involved, work experience is not the same as volunteering.

If companies want to increase the numbers of young people volunteering, then they should provide support to voluntary organisations through existing forms of corporate involvement, be it mentoring, in-kind or financial support or whatever else has worked in the past.

YES - Ivan Wise, volunteering project manager, WorldWide Volunteering

Encouraging youth volunteering is good for business. Whether or not you see it as a duty to support it, business will benefit from doing so. Schemes, such as the one that Deutsche Bank funds to help us raise awareness of volunteering in south London schools, contribute to improving its reputation and competitiveness and lead to an increase in its financial performance.

This encouragement will also lead to a more skilled workforce, which will have clear economic benefits. Volunteers tend to gain a better understanding of how to empathise with others, how to motivate others and have improved oral and written communication skills. Volunteering also improves young people's awareness of political and social issues and makes them significantly less likely to engage in criminal activity. Young people aged under 21 account for half of all recorded crime, and so it is vital to promote activities such as volunteering which not only interests the individual, but also improves their prospects of employment.

It is crucial that high-profile businesses, which have great influence over young people, encourage them to get involved.

NO - Fiona Dawe OBE, chief executive, YouthNet UK

There is increasing interest within the business sector in youth volunteering, but there is still some way to go.

Companies such as Whitbread are on the right track and it is up to the voluntary sector to capitalise on these examples, create opportunities and enable more businesses to understand the benefits and encourage participation.

The key themes have been identified on how and what is necessary to support and develop young people's engagement and participation. A co-ordinating, independent body is needed to focus on achieving a clear framework and coherent policy. This body should be at arm's length from government, transcend cross-departmental agendas, embrace the broad spectrum of the voluntary sector and work in partnership with business.

Business could do more to encourage and support youth volunteering as part of corporate social responsibility. Opportunities exist to forge links with local volunteering and youth agencies to support the infrastructure, as well as engage directly in programmes. Through youth volunteering, businesses have the perfect opportunity to develop mentoring programmes, donate money, skills and time. It is time for businesses to recognise and value volunteering experience as part of their recruitment processes.

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