Opportunity begins at home

You don't have to go abroad to get valuable paid or voluntary work experience.
Click to follow
The Independent Online

For many students, a gap year is synonymous with travel and work in far-flung places, but globe-trotting isn't the only option. A constructive, challenging experience can lie closer to home and there are plenty of organisations and opportunities in Britain to choose from to make it happen.

For many students, a gap year is synonymous with travel and work in far-flung places, but globe-trotting isn't the only option. A constructive, challenging experience can lie closer to home and there are plenty of organisations and opportunities in Britain to choose from to make it happen.

The first big advantage to staying home is finance. Raising money to travel can be daunting for many students, aware of the increasingly expensive student life to which they will have to become accustomed. Working for part or all of the year to supplement university funds allows you to gain valuable transferable skills for CVs such as communication, customer relations and initiative, as well as the satisfaction of earning and managing your own money. But investment in a university and future career can extend to even more specialised and lucrative opportunities.

The Year in Industry aims to attract bright young brains to British industry and can connect you with paid placements in more than 400 companies, including Rolls Royce, Shell and Compaq. Opportunities include academic research, engineering, IT and marketing and the work done is very real - last year, one company estimated a saving of £3.5m a month through a product bulk transfer system developed by its Year in Industry student.

Industrial experience is supplemented by management training courses, leading to the NEBS Certificate in Business Awareness. The scheme is competitive, but application is open to any university-bound students who see themselves working in industry in the broadest sense.

"A number of students use the scheme to confirm their university course and as a way of testing their decisions post- A-levels," says Chris Harris, the Year in Industry regional director for the North West. "A placement proves to employers they've demonstrated initiative on their year out and have a broader perspective on the world of work. It also allows them to go to university knowing something about the work they've done and at the end of their degree they can make career choices based on personal experiences."

Large companies in other business or finance sectors may also offer gap year programmes, such as Arthur Andersen's eight-month scholarship programme. Students do the same training and work as graduate trainees in areas including corporate tax and business consulting, with potential for further paid work experience, sponsorship and post-degree employment. A travel bursary for the remaining five months of the year allows students to combine the best of both gap year worlds.

But developing a broader world-view, skills, confidence and independence is not restricted to the world of work. Volunteering is an excellent way to meet new challenges, discover new strengths and invest in yourself and others. Community Service Volunteers (CSV) has hundreds of volunteer placements offering direct, vocational experience over four months to a year. The scheme is free and accommodation, living costs and pocket money are provided, along with the chance to make a tangible difference to other people's lives. This might mean providing support for people in their homes, befriending young offenders, teaching or working in a homeless shelter. All of these would actively help develop communication, decision-making and management skills in challenging, professional environments.

"Volunteers get the chance to live away from home - not far away, but far enough to gain valuable experience and independence. It gives them maturity and the chance to take on responsibility and gain confidence, as well as a feel of what it's like to work," says Liz Hover, spokeswoman for CSV.

Volunteering enables you to broaden your interests in any number of directions and there are many organisations offering the kind of work experience that might never have crossed your mind. The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers runs projects around the country, helping with essential rural work such as woodland management and dry stone walling.

Another refreshing option might be to explore your creative skills. The Year Out Drama Company's one-year intensive drama course allows potential thespians to discover their talent for performing and an interest that may last well beyond their year out.

A gap year gives you scope to be in charge of your life. Exploring the opportunities on your doorstep is as enriching as looking to distant horizons, and for variety and depth of experience you might just find there's no place like home.

 

* Gapyear.com: A new website launched jointly by the DfEE and UCAS, with information and links to the largest gap year providers. www.gapyear.com

* The Year in Industry, University of Manchester, Simon Building, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL; Tel: 0161-275 4396; www.yini.org.uk.

* Arthur Andersen: Scholarship Programme Manager, Arthur Andersen, Freepost KE3270, London, WC2R 2PS; www.arthurandersen.com/ukcareers

* CSV, 237 Pentonville Road, London N1 9NJ, Freephone: 0800 374 991; E-mail: 106167.2756@compuserve.com

* BCTV: 36 St Mary's Street, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, OX10 0EU; Tel: 01491 839 766

* Year Out Drama: for further information contact: Year Out Information Desk, Stratford-Upon-Avon College; Tel: 01789 266 245

Comments