peers who volunteer

Help finding paid work

Help finding Paid Work

Many people with lived experience who offer support to their peers on a voluntary basis develop skills and a passion for this work and are keen to progress to paid employment. While this is certainly not true for every peer volunteer, many people who shared their experiences with us wanted to convert their volunteering into a job. Indeed 56 people (more than one in five) who took our survey had already done so.

There is an expectation that organisations who recruit peer volunteers to help deliver their services provide those volunteers with advice, training, support and guidance to help them to find paid work if desired. In some cases, jobs will be available within the same organisation, in others, people can be helped to find jobs elsewhere.

Experiences of help in finding work

The experiences of the peer volunteers who took our survey varied. A majority (75%) described the help they received with developing work skills as “good” or “excellent”, while a sizeable minority (25%) rated it poor or minimal.

Positives

The most common positive experiences of being helped to find work are listed below.

By far the most important factor described to us was the encouragement from staff to pursue paid work. People really appreciated it when a volunteer co-ordinator or other member of staff showed real interest in them as an individual and was prepared to spend time ensuring that they got the chance to develop specific skills and qualifications. Many volunteers experienced this encouragement as a massive boost in their confidence and self-worth, which had often been adversely affected by their life experiences.

Another important factor was when people got the chance to talk about their work goals and then received career development advice tailored to their particular interests. While some people wanted to continue in face-to-face work, others found they had a talent for administration or fundraising. It was then possible for peer volunteers to have more choice over the work that they did so that it reflected their employment goals.

I was allowed to make decisions about what kind of role I would like to do and given the help needed to move into those areas.

The chance to get good quality training was greatly appreciated as was help in developing interview and CV writing skills. A sizeable minority of people said they had no IT skills and found their lack of know-how on how to use a computer or send an email was a real block to them finding work. They valued it enormously when someone took the time to realise this and invested the time in showing them basic IT skills. Some people had never owned a computer and did not know how to log on or check that the battery was fully charged.  In this situation, people did not need formal training, just someone who was prepared to lend a helping hand and make it clear they were always available to answer questions.

We did lots of interview techniques and employability workshops. As well as working with them learning the job itself.

One thing mentioned by many peer volunteers as being particularly helpful was the opportunity to shadow staff members in their work. This helped in a number of different ways: it showed people what the  job really entailed, gave them the chance to consider whether it was a job they would enjoy and the opportunity to learn from people demonstrating the skills needed in a real-world situation.

The chance to work alongside professionals to gain experience and knowledge was brilliant.

Some peer volunteers reported a particularly positive experience, describing an organisational culture which placed increasing employability at the heart of the volunteering programme. This assumption (for those who wanted it) that volunteering would enable a progression into the world of work also raised people’s expectations and helped them feel more confident about finding paid work.

When an organisation invested fully in the belief that one of the main drivers behind a peer volunteer programme was to help people with lived experience find work and build careers, the results were outstanding as Sonia’s story demonstrates.

Sonia’s Story

After I’d been a peer mentor for a couple of months, my self-confidence started coming back. My supervisor was consistently giving me positive feedback not just about my work but about the qualities she saw in me. She sat down with me and we talked about what sort of job I’d like to be doing and what skills I’d need to be able to do it. Over the next six months, I got the chance to go on lots of different training, often alongside paid staff. I loved doing the peer support but I was encouraged to try other things, co-running groups etc. which helped me develop new skills and boosted my confidence further.

They told me that a job was coming up and helped me practice my interviewing skills. I ended up being employed as a recovery support worker. I couldn’t be happier.

Negatives

People who had not received help in this area were often frustrated, particularly after long periods (frequently years) of working unpaid. Particular complaints were where people were obstructed from applying for jobs because of having criminal convictions. These individuals pointed out that they had not been in trouble for several years and said that they thought organisations were guilty of double standards when they were happy to have an individual work for them on a voluntary basis but were not prepared even to consider them as an employee. We recommend that organisations think through their commitment to providing peer volunteers with references when they decide to recruit people with lived experience as volunteers.

Help Finding Paid Work Checklist

For people with lived experience

  • Talk to your volunteer co-ordinator about your skills and interests and your career goals. Ask for them to support you in helping to match your volunteering experience to these goals and what further support the organisation can provide to help you reach these. 

  • Ask to be included on any regular communications about job vacancies, both within the organisation and with partners.

For providers

  • Recognising peer volunteers’ skills and encouraging them to think about their careers is the cornerstone of encouraging progression. 

  • A peer volunteering programme which is based on an expectation that many peers will progress to paid work is more likely to meet that aim. 

  • Organisations need to recognise that investing in volunteers’ progression to work will result in some turnover of volunteers and see this as a positive outcome rather than area of concern. 

  • Offering peer volunteers a range of employment interventions such as interview skills training, CV writing and disclosure of criminal records strategies is a key element of a successful progression strategy. 

  • The opportunity to shadow staff in different roles to identify career goals can be invaluable.

  • Ensure that job opportunities both within your own organisation and with partners are communicated to volunteers and that fair processes are in place for volunteers applying for these roles.

  • Providing continuing support to a peer volunteer who has found work can help that person sustain their job and start building a career.

  • Have a clear policy about providing references to your peer volunteers.

For commissioners

  • If you are commissioning a service with peer volunteers, please ask for evidence on how providers intend to help their volunteers convert their voluntary experience into paid employment and assess the quality of that support based on the key points listed above.

Help Finding Paid Work Resources

Good practice guides

National Voices Peer Support Hub is an online bank of high quality, curated resources for people looking to measure, evaluate, sustain and grow different types of peer support programmes.

Clinks (2020) Managing volunteers: A guide for organisations working in the criminal justice system 

 Clinks (2016) Good practice in service user involvement from the voluntary sector working in criminal justice

Investing in Volunteers is the UK quality standard for good practice in volunteer management for those organisations who want to accredit their practice.

Justice Involving Volunteers in Europe (2016) Building successful partnerships involving volunteers in the criminal justice system: a good practice guide

Using this guide

You can either download the best practice document in full here or browse the different sections of the guide by following the links below.

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