Graduate volunteers do the Groundwork to unlock green jobs

Logo: Groundwork
Logo: Groundwork

Groundwork is a national federation of charities that runs a wide variety of volunteer programmes across the UK. Groundwork focuses on creating better places, greener living and working, and improving people’s prospects.

For over two decades Groundwork has run volunteer schemes specifically for graduates. At the Groundwork Trust based in Oldham the graduate scheme is called the Volunteer Project Assistant (VPA) programme. Since the early 1990’s the VPA programme has helped over 2,000 people break the cycle faced by many graduates fresh out of university, of no experience=no job=no experience.

Volunteer group at Silverdale Country Park (Andrew Hunt, Park Ranger Silverdale)
Volunteer group at Silverdale Country Park (Andrew Hunt, Park Ranger Silverdale)

Joanna Fullman, VPA Programme Officer at Groundwork, commented: “We find that many graduates lack the practical experience and project management skills that are really valued by employers. Groundwork’s VPA programme gives graduates an opportunity to put their learning into practice and gain experience to add to their CV. In addition we also offer training, qualifications, team building trips and employability support that sits alongside the volunteering experience.”

Groundwork’s VPAs work on a range of different placements and are given the responsibility to deliver small-scale projects. Support is given along the way by experienced Groundwork staff members and each volunteer completes a number of training courses. Placements vary but typically include habitat management at local nature sites, assisting training or volunteer days and community work, developing gardens or food growing sites. There are many examples of graduates who have used their volunteer experience at Groundwork to unlock their first job in their chosen profession.

James Mak came to Groundwork as a recent graduate looking to gain real-life environmental experience. James worked as a VPA on the River Valley Futures project at Moston Brook in Greater Manchester. He supported a group of young volunteers and helped them to plan and organise monthly community events at the site. Soon after he finished as a volunteer at Groundwork, James progressed to a job in the field he was looking for - working for the Forestry Commission in South Wales.

James is not the only one who has managed to make his way into a job after getting relevant skills and experience via volunteering. Andrew Hunt is the current park ranger for Groundwork West Midlands Silverdale Park which is just to the west of Newcastle Under Lyme in Staffordshire – a former pit colliery transformed into a country park which is 87 ha of transformed habitat for wildlife.

Volunteering made all the difference in his quest for that job post graduation by consistently putting in the time you learn more and your volunteer hours grow, showing your commitment. Volunteering with several organisations can help build a breadth of skills. It can be hard to fit in, but by alternating over different weekends you are introduced to different habitats, locations and how different organisations operate. Build your portfolio as you go along by keeping a diary and taking photos. Whether fellow volunteers or countryside employees, Andrew’s experience was that everyone he met was incredibly supportive and helpful. This web of contacts and friends helps you to exchange skills and support.   In a close knit industry anyone in your network might put you in contact with your next job opportunity.

Volunteers dig in planting trees at Silverdale Country Park  (Andrew Hunt, Park Ranger Silverdale)
Volunteers dig in planting trees at Silverdale Country Park (Andrew Hunt, Park Ranger Silverdale)

And then don’t forget to look forward at the job you would like to get and the skills needed for that job Andrew Hunt said “Countryside Job Service was fantastic because it lists the skills employers are looking for, such as chainsaw and pesticides licences. You can use this to create a checklist of skills needed for your perfect job, and then target your experience towards what job adverts are requesting.   For instance, there is a growing demand for community engagement and jobs working for charities are increasingly common over government bodies.”

Remember employers receiving 100’s of applications want to see how your skills fit their job role so you need to tailor your application. It’s worth doing some research into the organisation and writing about your experience in the context of their goals. Use that volunteering portfolio to help you stand out from the crowd and show evidence you really are the person for the job

Also some people applying for the role might have previous paid experience, so even with a volunteering portfolio you need to have something extra. In Andrew Hunt’s case it was a PgDIP qualification in Habitat Management & Conservation, but it could also be a transferrable skill from a previous career, such as a teaching qualification or experience of managing budgets.

To put this into context it’s not only James and Andrew who have got jobs after volunteering Joanna added: “We’ve had VPA volunteers who have secured jobs within national parks, local authorities, Forestry Commission, Environment Agency and conservation roles abroad. A large number of staff members both at this Trust and other Groundwork Trusts started as graduate volunteers. Our Land & Design Manager was a VPA and even the Executive Director of Groundwork London started as a volunteer in Oldham.”

Recently graduated William Partington, aged 21,, completed the VPA programme and secured a full-time employment. William commented: “I had been hoping to do the VPA scheme even before I graduated and it has been some of the most enjoyable and positive 12 weeks of my life! Groundwork is a great charity and it has given me new ideas and a better chance of getting to where I want to be.”

The VPA programme continues to offer a range of exciting voluntary placements. Groundwork is currently recruiting a team of volunteers to work on a heritage project in Oldham funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. This opportunity would appeal to anyone interested in archaeology, conservation and community development. For more details contact Jo Fullman; email or call 0161 6241444.

For more information on the VPA programme please visit the VPA blog:

First published in CJS Focus on Volunteering in association with The Scottish Countryside Rangers Association, the Countryside Management Association and NATUR on 10 February 2014

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Posted On: 10/02/2014

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