How Gap Year Travels Can Enhance Career Prospects and Life Experience

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200,000-plus 18-25 year olds will be embarking on their gap year travels this year. Of these, a small - but steadily growing - number of young people are beginning to realise that voluntary work abroad pays off in many more ways than one. Not only do they travel the world, experience different cultures, meet new people and acquire an enviable suntan (just like their fellow ‘back-packers’); they also help to transform the lives of the local people. But another, very important, advantage is that their adventures are highly likely to make their future job applications really stand out from the crowd.

Evidence from employers shows that voluntary work - rather than gap year travel per se - is one of the most sought-after attributes in potential employees. A briefing out today by Tearfund1 (one of the UK’s largest relief and development agencies) shows that, of the 200 top businesses surveyed, 75% of employers prefer applicants with voluntary work experience. It also shows that a ‘constructive’ gap year can provide young people with ‘soft skills’ - such as initiative, decision-making and problem-solving - which other university graduates lack. Commenting on this report, Tearfund’s Paul Stanbrook, said: "With supply outstripping demand in the job market, employers look for CVs that show candidates have that ‘something extra’ that will bring added benefit to the workplace - such as experience of leadership and teamwork in the real world, which Tearfund’s Transform Scheme participants definitely offer".

This month alone, Tearfund’s Transform scheme has despatched 23 teams - a total of 270 individuals - to development projects in 18 developing countries throughout Africa, Asia and South America. These 270 people are almost exclusively gap year students, although the scheme is open to anyone over 18. Indeed, a handful of the group are either taking unpaid leave from their current employment or are looking for a new direction - and the oldest participant is 59!

The volunteers, who hail from all walks of life across the British Isles, will be turning their hands to a variety of development work, including building, education, working with children and healthcare. Each team will generally spend four to six weeks on their designated project, immediately preceded by an intensive 3-day orientation programme to prepare and enable them to really get stuck in from day one. However, individual participants can spend up to four months on some assignments.

Tearfund’s Transform Programme Team Leader, Paul Stanbrook, continues: "You would be amazed at how much can be accomplished by our volunteers in the few weeks that they are on site. The teams get involved in the day to day activities of Tearfund’s partner organisations around the world and this year’s assignments include working with street children in Brazil, repairing houses in Rwanda, health education in Mexico and a sports programme in Kenya. Participants raise their own funds for the trip and come back with a deeper understanding and concern for justice and the poor".

Mr Stanbrook concludes: "The importance of this scheme - for both the volunteers and the communities it transforms - cannot be over-stated and we are appealing for greater numbers of young people to take part. We would very much like to see the Government’s UK based ‘Millennium Volunteers’ scheme expanded to reach around the world and include projects such as ours so we will be watching its progress with great interest.’

For information about the scheme and to apply for 2003 projects, contact Tearfund on 0845 355 8355 or visit their website.

Read more about Tearfund and how to transform your gap year

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