Volunteers’ Week – Connecting with students in the midst of Covid-19
Written by Christine Guldborg-Christensen and Rachel Bell, Project Managers for Education Works
June is the month in which Volunteers’ Week falls – an annual celebration of volunteering contributions throughout the year. In the midst of the interruption and pressures of Covid, it might have been expected that the number of people able to volunteer would drop, however we have seen quite the opposite at ELBA. We have found a greater interest than ever from our member companies, with many employee volunteers looking to connect, share and give back to the communities who need it the most, through remote opportunities.
As one of our remote volunteers, a Senior Compliance Manager from HSBC noted:
“The COVID-19 situation changed the way we support others. I decided that this is going to be a great way to help young people and at the same time practise my public speaking and presentation skills.”
In the ELBA Education team we’ve been positively overwhelmed by the engagement in remote volunteering to support east London students. More than ever there is a need to support young people, whose studies and access to interventions have been challenged in this period of home learning. At ELBA and through the support of our company partners, we are working to safeguard their access to enrichment activities, work experience, internships and graduate opportunities.
This year marks Linklaters’ 20th year of participation in ELBA’s Mentoring Works programme. Hannah Lashley, Linklaters’ Community Education Consultant, reflected on the value of continued support from volunteers in our present circumstances:
“We are very grateful to volunteers for their continued investment and proactivity in supporting our Linklaters Realising Aspirations partners to adapt to recent changes. Volunteers have understood the increased challenges many schools, charities and communities face and have remained positive throughout this time and have supported students to remain positive about their futures too. I am grateful that Mentoring Works has been in a position to continue with an adapted programme and support many mentors and mentees to continue sessions through phone calls and emails.”
Through ongoing conversations with our network of schools and young people, we have heard first hand that, since the emergence of Covid-19, they have been afraid of missing out on the connections with businesses and the world of work, which have been nurtured for so many years. Schools and students have been delighted to remain linked with business volunteers, albeit in an adapted, new and remote way. Our secondary school and sixth form students have continued their mentoring relationships via telephone and email, they have attended virtual career talks to listen to our volunteers’ personal stories, tips and ideas, they have been coached to create a CV and they have undertaken mock interviews, with tailored feedback to support their development.
One volunteer, an Associate from Ince, told us:
“I found the careers/mock interview talk incredibly rewarding. I’d even go so far as to say that it was the most heart warming event I’ve done. Despite being separated by screens it felt like a really intimate and interactive session.”
ELBA volunteers have also supported university students with remote CV and LinkedIn profile reviews, to help improve their chances of employment, as well as hosting insight sessions to give students a better understanding of various industries.
A KPMG Assistant Manager volunteer fed back:
“I know from previous experience how difficult preparing CVs can be and how important it is to get the formatting, layout and content right to ensure that they stand out. It is not always easy to apply the guidance you can find online to your own CV, so I thought that being able to provide direct advice on specific CVs could be particularly useful for students that don’t necessarily have the same experiences.”
The benefits of volunteering – for all
There are many reasons for volunteering – one message we’ve been hearing often from our volunteers is the power of connection and giving back, which has proven to be a big motivator during these times. For many of ELBA’s business volunteers remote volunteering has also provided more flexibility to give back:
“Volunteering gives me a sense of satisfaction. I feel we each individually have a certain responsibility towards our society and we should contribute in whatever way we can.”
– Senior Manager, HSBC
“I was really keen to help in any way during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially when I have spare time as my employer is willing for me to allocate a number of days in the year to volunteering, and I want to contribute to the community I work in.”
– Assistant Manager, KPMG
Another volunteer highlighted that it was rewarding to utilise their skill set while working from home:
“I wanted an opportunity to give back through volunteering in the safest way possible, and helping with CVs is well suited to my skills set developed over the years as an Executive Assistant.”
– Executive Assistant, JLL
While the future remains unpredictable for all of us, remote volunteering has provided new opportunities and positive impact for students in developing their employability skills and expanding their understanding of the world of work.
“Participating in the workshop was extremely helpful to me, especially in quarantine. Due to the lockdown, I felt as though I had more restricted resources and would not be able to get the same support as before but the workshop showed me that it is still possible to get just as good support regardless of the current situation. The workshop increased my confidence greatly regarding my future career paths and also regarding the different opportunities we have during quarantine.”
– Sixth Form student
Despite the challenges, we have been so grateful to be able to continue to connect students and volunteers in new ways and to see the significant benefits it has brought. Volunteering in the time of Covid has helped build a sense of purpose, connection, variety and motivation, to both the volunteers and beneficiaries, when we have all needed it most. Volunteering continues to prove that it can seamlessly bring the east London community together, whatever the circumstances.