Why digital volunteering will become more common place in 2016 Posted December 30, 2015 by thedigitalvolunteers

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I’ve been Director of Volunteering and Community Engagement in The Digital Volunteers, a specialist volunteering organisation I helped set up with two other mums, since 2014. This blog is going to outline why I think digital volunteering will become more common place in 2016 and the years to come.

It goes without saying that most mums want to support and guide their children’s development so that their chances of employment in the future are maximised. As a mother with 3 children interested in all things tech, I am keen to give them opportunities early in life to use and progress their digital skills. Volunteering their digital skills meets this need of both parent and child to do something proactive with their skills. As my family are heavily involved in volunteering in other charities; setting up a volunteering organisation specialising in digital volunteering seemed a natural choice to me.

The Digital Volunteers is a registered CIC (similar to a charity but easier and simpler to get going) and our mission is to help people volunteer their digital skills, particularly young people from 15 years old, and to deliver activities to people living in deprived areas. By volunteering at local after school coding clubs in primary schools for example, young people develop their digital skills and employability.

We have recruited 6 volunteers during 2015, with 3 more starting in the new year, including a CTO from an award winning software company, Blurrt, and a woman who studied computer science at university before dedicating the last 20 years to bringing up her 2 sons.

Oliver, a 16 year old, has volunteered in a local after school coding club during the Summer and Autumn school terms – completing 32 hours of volunteering! 

In his own words :

I have learnt a lot from the sessions, like how a classroom environment is created, there was always a positive attitude as the children enjoyed the sessions. I was surprised by how popular the clubs were, the children were always determined to learn, which made the whole experience better. It’s interesting that the children know a lot about computers, it must be because of the age they are growing up in.

I might study to become a teacher in the future because the experience has been amazing and something I will never forget.

National campaigns championing volunteering like BBC Radio 1’s #1MillionHours, prove how volunteering is seen as a legitimate way of increasing a young persons employability. Ben Cooper, Controller of BBC Radio 1 says:

Volunteering on a CV shows me you have passion and energy outside of your education or work – it gives you a competitive edge.

Nesta is an independent charity that works to increase the innovation capacity of the UK. Nesta recognises that citizens helping out alongside workers can drive innovation in service delivery. After holding a series of round table events earlier this year, Nesta announced in an article, Tech volunteering –  a win-win for young people and industry, that exciting opportunities exist for greater volunteering involving digital skills.

Nesta found some key benefits for a business supporting digital skills enhancement through their employee volunteering schemes. They include:

  1. corporate brand enhancement
  2. generating customer insight 
  3. developing and motivating existing talent at different stages of their careers
  4. recruiting new digital talent 
  5. inspiring future digital talent
  6. training opportunities
  7. enhanced CV
  8. a sense of fulfilment

Yet, despite an estimated 11 million people in the UK being given paid time off to volunteer, which even valued conservatively constitutes a billion pounds’ worth of support to deserving causes, according to Benefacto, only 17% of this volunteering time is taken.

A recent techUK White paper listed recommendations to make it easier for the tech industry to volunteer to help address the digital skills challenge – either through sharing skills with young people or inspiring them about digital careers.

Indeed a new programme called Tech Future Ambassadors promoting digital professionals volunteering their skills in schools has been launched, funded by Tata Consultancy Services and delivered by the Tech Partnership and STEMNET.

The Digital Volunteers has already got 9 after school coding clubs up and running in 2015 in partnership with Communities First Torfaen Newport. More than 70 children have learnt how to programme using Scratch and some Javascript. We have recruited and trained 6 volunteers (2 under 18 year olds) and they have contributed over 100 hours of volunteering between them. All volunteers and club leaders have had extra training and completed a Level 4 Foundation Degree in Raspberry Pi programming earlier this summer thanks to bursaries provided by UHOVI.

In 2016 Digital Volunteers is planning on increasing its activity by working in partnership with Technocamps and Cardiff University’s National Software Academy. We will be supporting employers to develop employers supporting volunteering strategies, especially employers operating in the tech space. We also plan to increase the digital skills of NEETS, people living in digitally underserved geographies, and digitally excluded demographics.

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For more information on the subject, read http://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/tech-volunteering-win-win-young-people-and-industry

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