Hi there! My name is Polly, and I am DigVentures’ communities and social media intern. I’m currently wading through archaeological career paths with Joe Flatman’s book Becoming an Archaeologist as my bible! I intend to keep track of all the experiences I’m going to face looking for life after university here in the Site Hut. Wish me luck!
Paid jobs applied for: 3 / Interviews for paid job applications: pending
Volunteering jobs applied for: 3/started: 1, pending: 2
Many young people have been voicing their opinions recently about the unfairness of having to volunteer to be able to land a job in the heritage sector. I’m bang in the middle of this very situation – how could I not write about it?
When I left university, I naively believed that my Master’s degree meant that someone out there would be willing to employ me. I have since applied for quite a few basic jobs that I am over qualified for – and not got them – simply because there are so many others applying for the same role.
It is an unavoidable fact that there are more qualified graduates than there are jobs to gainfully employ them. When employers are sieving through CVs looking for candidates for their applications, they are looking for something more than just a degree. I have spoken to lots of people recently in response to this blog, in and out of the heritage sector, employees and employers, and they have all said that experience is an important factor for getting hired/ hiring someone. Volunteering shows a willingness and passion for your subject, and will give someone an edge in this competitive job-hunting market.
The problem is… working for free. Many young people today simply cannot afford to work for free. Lots of them will be working alongside achieving their degree, to be able to pay for the rising fees, and do not have spare time to give away. The just-graduated are working full time to avoid going home after uni to live with parents. When people cannot work for free, does this mean an advantage is given to others from wealthier backgrounds who can? Do volunteers take work away from people who would otherwise be paid for it? If untrained volunteers are doing work, does this mean standards are at risk?
These are big questions, and my opinion is that volunteers are not the cause of the problem. Volunteers are a numerous and important part of the sector. Most of the time, they provide work that would otherwise simply not get done. That could include anything from helping with huge rescue archaeology projects to providing exciting resources in museums.
Earlier this year, I got the chance to work with the Thames Discovery Programme, who have a very active group of volunteers who help record the archaeology of the Thames foreshore. Because of the tidal nature of the shore, new archaeology is being discovered and lost day by day, and without help from the FROG volunteers, would not be recorded. I also visited a London museum for a volunteer taster day this week. This museum said 25% of all their interactions with the public come from their volunteers. For a large museum like this one, that is a huge number of people who are getting a fantastic insight into museum life that goes beyond walking round and looking in the glass cabinets. These companies would not hire people to be paid for these roles because they simple do not have the funding,so volunteers are not taking work away from paid professionals. They are actually giving members of the public a chance to join a community, learn something new or gain new skills.
Many people I have talked to this week, including all of the DigVentures staff, have volunteered in the past, and many still do give their time away for free. The most important piece of advice I have been given – and which is certainly the approach that DigVentures has taken in my internship – is that initial discussion is crucial so that volunteers get the most out of their time and are not taken for granted. The role of a volunteer must be very clear. When going for a volunteering role, it is important to say what you want to get out of the experience, and how long you are willing to remain in the position. Clear boundaries are good for everyone; after all, if volunteering is the first step towards employment, it should be treated the same respect and guidelines as a paid position.
I started a volunteer post last week at a tiny museum in North London. In two weeks I have been given object handling training, documentation handling, and been set two projects of my very own in varied roles. It is invaluable experience that I can automatically put onto my CV. Alongside that, the curator has offered to be a referee for me after four weeks, which is another priceless jobseekers tool.
I don’t feel exploited in any way, and part of that is because I was honest in my interview. I told the curator that I was looking for experience to get a job, gave her a time span, and told her I was happy being given as much responsibility and training as possible. These roles need to be clearly laid out, because there will be those who just want to volunteer to be part of the community or to fill time. You need to set yourself apart, and actively seek the work that will get you appropriate experience. Exploitation of volunteers is a big issue and comes from not having those clear boundaries. You should schedule review meetings with your team leader, and speak up if you are unhappy.
Employers need to be clear with volunteers as well. It is hard to say to someone who is working for free that they are doing something wrong, but they need to be able to instruct volunteers so that standards of work don’t slip, and so the volunteers actually learn through critique. Archaeology is an academic as well as a professional discipline, and I think that most of the people who work in it respect the need for good work. It’s part of why we love it.
I do think there should be some clear guidelines set in place to protect both volunteers and employers, as there are for internships. But I think that volunteering is important and shouldn’t be getting the bad press it is at the moment. There are other ways to boost your CV that don’t require you to work for free if you are smart (see my top tips from last week). It does, however, give fantastic training and crucial experience to those who are able to put in the hours.
If you are unsure about volunteering, here are a few wise words from @zooarchaeologist for you…
It can be fun & useful for your career, if it isn’t – quit!
Editorial note: Volunteering is a hot topic for those on both sides of the equation, employers as well as hopeful employees. There is also the epidemic of what we at DV call ‘soft volunteering’: many of us with jobs cannot escape the expectation of extra hours that are not remunerated, or doing things for free, or not counting the true cost in time of what we work.
We look at the situation of talented young people like Polly, and can’t help but think about the reasons why jobs are so scarce, and even internships and volunteer posts are so competitive. Retirement age has risen, pensions have been raided, and many older people cannot afford to retire and get out of the job market. Someone has to move out at the top for the whole ladder to shuffle upwards, opening up those crucial entry-level jobs, and this is happening much more slowly in recent years. Additionally, many mid-career workers have been made redundant due to economic conditions, and must now re-train in new fields. They are taking up opportunities that might otherwise be open to young job-seekers.
And why is there so much corporate need for volunteers? Is it that companies want to exploit young people to get out of spending money on wages? Or that there’s suddenly more work than ever before? Not quite. Many companies have had to adjust to new financial realities, and this has left them with big holes to fill in their resources. If handled well, these can be real opportunities for people just starting out in their careers. Polly is right – boundaries, communication and professionalism are essential in successful volunteering, if you are approaching it for entry into the workplace. Good luck!
Follow Polly on twitter: @ArchPolly
Comments are open at the bottom of the post, or you can send her a message
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