VSO concerned by sharp decline in Generation Xers volunteering
19 January 2007

International development charity VSO has reported a dramatic decrease in the number of professionals under 50 volunteering, even though interest in volunteering overseas is at an all time high amongst other age groups.

The charity, which is seeking skilled professionals to work in some of the poorest countries in the world, has found that in the past five years the number of over 50s volunteering with VSO has more than doubled, from 21 percent in 2000, to 52 percent today. Yet the number of professionals volunteering overseas in their late 20s, 30s and 40s is steadily declining from nearly 79 percent in 2000, to 48 percent in 2006. It warns that lack of 'Generation X' mid-career volunteers could lead to a skills gap in the developing world as volunteer placements requiring qualified professionals with a few years experience are left unfilled.

Judith Brodie, director of VSO UK says: "VSO works at all levels in developing countries, so there is range of placements which need different levels of experience. Older volunteers bring a wealth of experience but we also need people mid-career who can take up placements in perhaps more challenging countries. In Gambia for example, a volunteer will often have to travel by motorbike over poorly-made roads which is understandably less appealing to some older volunteers.

"VSO's experience is showing that pressures of holding on to a good job and getting on the property ladder are preventing Generation Xers volunteering overseas. Attitudes towards taking a gap year seem to be changing, as the under 50s take time off to travel, but put off volunteering until retirement. At VSO we're targeting younger people with more flexible placements. We're also want employers to grant sabbaticals, to help people with job security. Volunteering overseas isn't just the preserve of students or golden gappers."

The charity is highlighting its difficulties recruiting 150 primary teachers over the next year to fulfil commitments to partners overseas. Traditionally a strong recruitment area for VSO, the charity now finds it easier to recruit older teachers than younger ones.

Aimee Low, 27 from Yorkshire, had two years experience of primary teaching when she applied to VSO: "I kept asking my placement adviser if I really did have enough experience do a teacher training job," she said. "But as I learnt from other volunteers, I did. In Pakistan where I was placed for two years, education standards are very low so even as a less experienced teacher I could share with them really helpful methods and activities that were different to the traditional chalk-and-talk approach." Aimee's experience training teachers from nine schools in and around Peshawar has enabled her to learn more about teaching and learning styles, and living in another culture has increased her confidence whilst working with ethnic minority students in the UK. "I'd recommend it to any teacher. For schools in the UK it opens up a world of opportunities to develop links. My mum is a teacher too and we set up a pen pal link between schools in Yorkshire and Peshawar and the students have a greater understanding of a different country because of it."

The charity is launching a major advertising campaign that is aimed specifically at people aged 25-45, urging potential volunteers not to put their dreams off until retirement.

Fact File
• The average age of VSO volunteers is now 40, rising from 38 last year, and 33 in 1990.
• VSO needs to recruit 700 UK volunteers in 2007, including 150 primary teachers
• If one VSO volunteer trains around 40 new teachers, those teachers will each go on to teach classes of around 100 children. And if 150 teachers do the same incredible job, that figure becomes 600,000 children. 600,000 children getting a better quality education and a better start in life.
• Skilled professionals are needed from education, health, business and management backgrounds.
• In return for their time VSO volunteers receive a local allowance, flights, insurance, accommodation, visas, national insurance and pension contributions and comprehensive training.
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