The sky’s the limit: Meet the ICS volunteers who discovered volunteering’s ‘double benefit’
In workplaces up and down the country, there’s an increasing realisation that work outside the workplace can benefit the employee and employer.
From taking days off to getting involved with a local charity, to spending three months volunteering abroad in a sector relevant to their role, young employees are expanding their career prospects.
It’s a way of thinking that prompted former international development secretary Justine Greening to comment earlier this year that ICS volunteers also bring home “vital skills and a new perspective that will help them succeed in the global businesses of tomorrow.”
And it’s backed up by stats. A De Montfort and Re:action study found that two thirds of young people with experience of volunteering in national or international settings said their education and employability had benefitted from meeting new people through volunteering.
Volunteers Alastair, Chloe and Mo are just three examples of how young people can benefit from the experience - they’re all now working in their dream full-time jobs.
We caught up with the three of them to find out how they did it.
Leaving the gap year attitude behind
Alastair Duncan, 23, from Mitcham, applied to volunteer with Challenges Worldwide ICS to get experience of international working – with an end goal of landing his dream job as a business analyst for Tata in India.
He spent January to April 2016 in Ghana, working as a business consultant with small enterprises across the capital, Accra, on Challenges’ business development programme.
In addition to being valuable work experience, his time on placement with ICS, living and work in a new community for 11 weeks gave him a greater insight into working life outside the UK.
Critical to my success on the programme was being modest, analysing my own values, and looking to embrace what local people do and understand why rather than criticise.
After returning back to the UK, he offered his newly-developed entrepreneurial skillset on a voluntary basis to a local business – who snapped up the opportunity to work with him.
Keen to pursue his dream of moving to India, he secured the crucial job interview with Tata.
In his interview after his placement, the company specifically asked Alastair about his ICS placement, describing his overseas experience as ‘essential’ to the role.
CMI-accredited training in-country gave Alastair the power to demonstrate to Tata that he was able to put into practice with real businesses the academic and theoretical experience he’d learnt.
And it worked – he made the cut.
“ICS isn’t travelling. You’ll need to leave the gap year attitude behind, but when you do, you’ll realise that your placement is a great opportunity to realise your ambitions,” he added.
The sky’s the limit
“Go with an open mind.” That was the parting advice from Chloe Parkin, 25, from Brighton.
She also went away on her ICS placement with Challenges. And since her return, she has excelled, continuing her professional interests working with a leading company tackling air pollution in Beijing.
While on her placement in Accra, Ghana, Chloe saw first-hand the extent of air pollution in the capital, which was recently given a damning rating in a World Health Organisation report.
Inspired by the issues she saw while overseas and empowered by the real-world experience of working in the field, after returning to the UK Chloe left for China to work with AirVisual, a company focusing on tackling air pollution with real-time air quality monitoring.
She highlighted her ICS placement as central to her success in securing her post-internship position.
As AirVisual is still a start-up, the skills learnt in the first half of the placement were directly transferable.
“Learning how to build brand awareness and identify which demographics the business should be targeting was key to my role, along with getting great practice in writing blogs and articles.”
Working alongside a team of talented young professionals, Chloe’s ICS experience pushed her to develop her employability skills, and it paid off, with AirVisual inviting her back to work full time.
Highlighting her CMI qualification as key to securing the job, Chloe said that ‘having international experience showed that I was happy to move and commit to working abroad’.
‘Professionally, I’ve excelled’
Before ICS, 24-year-old Mohammed Haque from Ipswich struggled with socialising and lacked the confidence needed to move up and on in his career.
Placed in Mzuzu, Malawi, Mo volunteered with Progressio ICS on their HIV and AIDS projects, helping to raise awareness within the local community on the importance of contraception.
“I didn’t have much confidence before I left,” said Mo.
“I’ve always struggled with socialising. I remember one moment in the first week when all the UK and in-country volunteers were together and we were forced to get up and talk in front of everyone – there was no choice!”
“Everyone would share their ideas in meetings in those first few weeks but I wouldn’t believe in myself to share my own thoughts.
Over the next couple of months I realised that everyone listened to what I had to say and I discovered that I do have confidence in my own beliefs.
And after returning, the newfound confidence Mo gained from ICS directly helped him achieve his promotion onto his employer’s fast-track managerial scheme.
“Professionally, I’ve excelled. ICS played a huge part in making that happen. I would never have believed in myself or had the confidence to do the challenges that are expected of me now,” said Mo.
“I’m being asked to deliver presentations, speak to groups, and manage people. None of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for my placement with ICS.”
To find out more about how ICS can help you progress in your career, click here.