HeadStart connects young people to volunteer opportunities and provides a route into paid work at major employers like Starbucks.
Every young person should experience working life, whether through a part-time job, work experience or shadowing. However, volunteering is a route into work that is often overlooked, despite its dual benefits of providing employability skills plus an opportunity to give something back.
Many voluntary programmes aimed at young people now come with the support of employers, who see the value in working with their local community and engaging future talent.
One such scheme is HeadStart – created by The Challenge in partnership with the Mayor of London – which connects young people to local voluntary opportunities and offers those who complete more than 16 hours’ work a guaranteed job interview with major employers such as Nando’s, Bloomberg and Starbucks.
Applicants can find their own work placements or have one allocated to them. Prior to their job interview, they will be invited to a workshop to enhance their communication, time management and CV-writing skills.
Montell-Diego Higgins-Chen volunteered as a play worker before succeeding in his job interview with Starbucks, where he now works as a barista. He plans to study engineering at university and credits the programme with boosting his confidence.
“I learned a lot of skills around time management, met some great people and was kept busy looking after 40 children a day,” he says, admitting that he had originally intended to volunteer in construction.
“HeadStart has helped me prepare for university interviews, as I now have a lot more to talk about. I found the Starbucks interview refreshing as it was more about getting to know my personality traits than qualifications.”
The employer view
Starbucks is one of HeadStart’s founding corporate partners, with 2,500 young people choosing the coffee giant for their job interview. Of these, some 30% have taken up a job with Starbucks.
“HeadStart is all about helping young people to make a positive impact in their community and improving employability skills. With 50% of our partners aged under 25, we’re committed to creating opportunities,” says Russell Butcher, senior manager for education and skills at Starbucks.
He believes it’s crucial that schools equip pupils with basic skills such as communication, time management and adaptability, explaining that Starbucks hires on attitude. “You can learn a lot of things when you begin working, but being resilient, a good communicator, and having a can-do attitude can go a long way.”
Butcher also wants young people to be fully apprised of all routes into work, pointing out that a university or college education isn’t for everyone – a fact borne out by a recent Sutton Trust study of secondary school pupils, which shows an 11% drop in those planning to attend university since 2013.
This requires businesses and educators to work together to stress the experiential and developmental benefits of apprenticeships, volunteering and school-leaver programmes. Butcher says this is particularly important in the retail industry, which has a high staff turnover.
“One of the key things in our industry is to invest in our people. One in five of our apprenticeship graduates (1,000 apprentices have graduated from Starbucks since 2012) goes on to achieve an in-work promotion. It’s very possible for a young person to progress from barista to store supervisor or manager with a number of years or even months,” he says.
Learning about yourself
Ultimately, volunteering provides young people with a chance to develop their employability skills in a real working environment; the space to think about their careers and to test out their skills. For Higgins-Chen, it helped him to learn more about himself.
“I learned that if you don’t initially get what you want, don’t be discouraged. You might find something you’d never have thought of but really enjoy. Give every opportunity your all.”
- Montell-Diego Higgins-Chen on volunteering through HeadStart