Working with University Students

Students studying at university are often seen as ideal people to volunteer within a local Boys’ Brigade Company, particularly if they have previously been involved with The Boys’ Brigade as a young person. In order to assist companies who would like to work with university students and who may not have done before, we have put together a short list of things to consider to make the experience an enjoyable one for all.

Finding Student Volunteers

You may find that you receive an enquiry directly from the student, indirectly via their current Boys’ Brigade Company or you may need to work with a university to advertise a role.

Working with a local University

If you have a university or university halls of residence near your company, the first step would be to search online for their ‘Volunteers Service’. Most universities have them as part of their Student Union and they work to advertise voluntary roles for students within the University. In order to advertise a role with them, you will need to register an account with them and provide details to show that you are insured and that the student will be safe when volunteering with you. They will usually require you to upload the current insurance certificate for the company. This can be emailed over to you, along with any other documents they require, by contacting contact us.

Once you have registered with the volunteers service, you can then advertise your volunteering role. When creating your advert, please remember to be as specific as possible about who you are looking for and what the role is that they will be doing. Just asking for somebody to volunteer to help at a youth group isn’t likely to get any responses. Some things to think about including in your advert could be:

  • What age groups they will be working with.
  • How many other leaders they will be working with.
  • What day and time they would need to be available.
  • How long are they expected to volunteer for each week.
  • What training is provided for them.
  • What activities they will be helping with.
  • Whether they will be required to take the lead and run any activities.
  • That they will be required to undertake an enhanced DBS check.

There are many more things you can include but the more specific you are, the more chance you have of having a response to your advert. There may even be specific roles within your company that don’t require the volunteer to attend a meeting night that you could advertise for.

The Initial Meeting

Once you have received a response to your advert, or you have had an enquiry directly, or indirectly from somebody within the organisation, it is then important to meet with them over a coffee (or equivalent). This could be with your Chaplain attending as well but please don’t have more than one person with you, as this could be seen as intimidating. During this meeting, have an informal chat with the volunteer to understand their background and experiences, what they want to get out of their volunteering experience and to explain the culture and requirements of your Boys’ Brigade Company. It is important to remember that even those with experience within The Boys’ Brigade may be coming from a company with a different culture to yours and therefore may not be a good fit with you. You should also take this opportunity to outline any requirements the church has which relate to the registration of volunteers or the role they have expressed an interest in.

If at the end of the initial meeting, you feel that they would not be a good fit within your company, please be honest with them and explain why. If you know of another local company where they may fit better, offer to put them in touch with them instead.

Hopefully at the end of the initial meeting, you will feel happy with them volunteering within your company and they will be excited to join the team. If they ask to come and visit on a meeting night to see what goes on, allow them to do so but please remember that they cannot attend regularly until their leader registration is completed. It is worth taking the leader registration forms with you to the initial meeting, so you can hand them to the volunteer at the end of the meeting, for them to complete and return to you. Remember, you may need to explain some of the Boys’ Brigade terminology to those who are new to the organisation.

The First Session and Beyond

Once the registration process has been completed, the volunteer can then attend weekly sessions. In order to check the status of a new leader registration, you can log in to OBM to view it on their profile. We would recommend checking this once a week and once OBM is displaying their role rather than ‘pending’ they have completed the registration process.

On the first session the volunteer attends, it is important to give them an induction to the premises, introduce them to the other leaders and explain what is required of them. It is good to have a uniform ready for them when they arrive, so they feel welcomed and valued from the start. Introduce them to the children and young people during the session, but allow the volunteer to watch and observe whilst they get used to how the company operates and the structure of the evening. It may be useful to have a checklist located in your meeting space so that if you are busy, you could delegate some of these tasks to other leaders.

Over the next few weeks, provide the volunteer with support and slowly give them more responsibility, ensuring that what you are asking them to do is within their skillset and that they are comfortable with it. Perhaps buddy them up with another leader who can coach them and provide them with support as they get used to the role.

It is important to have a catch up with the volunteer regularly throughout their first session to ensure they are happy in the role and for you to provide feedback to them. This will help them improve in their role but please remember that any criticism should be constructive. As they develop and gain more experience, include them in planning meetings and take on board their thoughts and ideas.

Things to Consider

  • University terms are shorter than school terms and therefore don’t rely on a student volunteer in September or in July – Speak to them to understand their availability and plan accordingly.
  • Support any student volunteer through their exam periods and don’t pressure them to attend a session if they say they can’t.
  • Don’t expect them to know everything – this may be their first time working in a team or working with children & young people, so let them ask questions and be patient with them.
  • Being at university can be expensive and so a student volunteer may not have the money to pay for things that you expect other leaders in your company to pay for or contribute towards.
  • Students may well have multiple responsibilities such as a role in a society or a club, which may mean they have less availability at certain times in the year, or they may develop additional skills or contacts that could benefit your company.
  • Due to the short term tenancies associated with student accommodation, it is likely that student volunteers will move home once a year over the summer holidays. This may change the time it takes them to get to your company and they may need your help to change their personal details on OBM.
  • Students timetables may change throughout their time with you, changing their availability or what they can commit to. It is worth checking with the volunteer each September, what their availability is for the new session.
  • International Students with experience of Boys’ Brigade may have a very different understanding of what is expected of them as a leader. Be patient with those who have had a different experience of The Boys’ Brigade, whilst ensuring that all rules and regulations are adhered to.
  • Students are not a long term solution to a shortage of volunteers within a company. The very nature of university means that students may not be able to commit to volunteering for a long period of time. Once their time university course has finished, even if they remain in the same area, the changes and adjustments required as they enter the world of full-time work, may mean they are no longer able to volunteer with you.

A number of these points are not just relevant for student volunteers but also for the rest of the volunteers within your company. Regular communication with all the volunteers will help your company to be able to offer the right level of good quality activities, without over-stretching the resources you have available to you.

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