How does a young person get their first job when employers don’t recognise volunteering?

I’ve just been asked to fill in an employment reference for one of the young people that we’ve been working with on somewhereto_. He’s done quite a bit of volunteering with the project and we’ve found him spaces to organise his own events. He’s young, just out of college and has not had a ‘proper’ job in the past. He’s applied to be an ‘agency worker’ with a large unitary local authority.

The reference request came in the form of a questionnaire. Every single question on the form assumed that I’d employed the candidate. It asked about his disciplinary record; why he left my employment; would I employ him again? It was very hard to answer anything.

At a time when it is so hard for young people to get their first job it is disappointing that reference requests don’t recognise that, not everyone has a previous employer. Our volunteer has done some great things with us. He’s been proactive and gained skills that are relevant to the workplace. I could have let them know lots of positive things about this young man but the fact that he had worked with us as a volunteer was not recognised on the form and there was nowhere for me to add comments.

We need to encourage local authorities, who should be at the forefront of supporting young people into employment, to look at rounded individuals who have experience and have demonstrated commitment  through volunteering. Local Authority HR practices have always been a bit cumbersome but now, more than ever, they should be leading the way and setting an example of good practice.

somewhereto_ is a great way for young people to develop skills for employment but how on earth is this going to mean anything if employers won’t even look at people who’ve not yet got a record of wage slips.