What training and support do you provide?
The impact of advice on our clients is significant and quality is paramount. Advisers and assessors are highly trained and supported by experienced supervisors. The Citizens Advice Adviser Learning Programme is highly regarded because it is rigorous and demanding. A competency-based modular programme, it comprises individual study, observation activities, group sessions and external training courses. A variety of methods is used to assess competence at various points during the programme, and a certificate is issued on completion.
At Watford we deliver the programme over a 12-week period of weekly group sessions supported by independent study. This is followed by a further period of learning while working with clients. The time it takes to reach competence depends on how much time each volunteer is able to commit. As a guide, a gateway assessor volunteering for one day every week could be fully trained in nine months to a year, and adviser training will typically take a further year of learning and working with clients before full competence is reached. Trainee assessors and advisers work with clients during their training in the same way as those who are qualified, but with more support and supervision.
What skills and experience do I need?
Our volunteers come from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures and bring a wealth of different skills, knowledge and experience to their work. We celebrate the diversity of our volunteers, which reflects the community we serve. We do not prescribe any previous knowledge or experience, because we provide comprehensive training and support; however, much of the work we do is computer-based, so a reasonable level of proficiency in using information technology is required.
Likewise, the people who use our service have an equally diverse range of experience and attributes, which may include mental and / or physical health conditions and the effects of poverty or social exclusion. Some are vulnerable or speak a language other than English as their first language. It’s important for volunteers to understand how these challenges can impact people’s lives and to respond with empathy and without judgement or prejudice.
How much time do I need to commit?
Volunteering as an adviser or gateway assessor is a serious commitment, and we ask all prospective volunteers to carefully consider whether their individual circumstances are compatible with a regular, long term volunteering role before applying. We invest considerable resources in training and developing volunteers in these roles, in the expectation of a long-term contribution to the service we provide to our clients.
For the gateway assessor role, we ask our volunteers to be available on a regular weekly basis for at least one day per week (or two half-day sessions) for a minimum period of one year. For the adviser role the commitment is the same but for a minimum of two years. During the initial stage of the learning programme, you will need to find a few more hours each week to complete the online learning in addition to your day(s) in the office.
When can I apply?
We run our Gateway Learning Programme twice a year in March and September, or according to organisational need. For other roles we accept applications at any time. We encourage applications for an admin or reception role from anyone waiting for an opportunity to train as an assessor or adviser, or if you are not sure which role would suit you. The knowledge and skills you learn will prepare the ground for moving into another role in the future.
I’m a full-time student. Can I volunteer?
We welcome students who are able to make a regular commitment. Many of our student volunteers are law students wishing to gain experience of working with clients in a legal advice setting. We can offer student volunteers opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills in preparation for a legal career. It is particularly beneficial to join us after summer exams in the first year and undertake the initial training during the summer vacation.
Students can volunteer in any role, and we currently have students volunteering as consumer advisers, gateway assessors and receptionists. Some of our former
student volunteers have gone on to secure training contracts, while others have found the skills and experience gained have prepared the ground for careers in other sectors such as the Civil Service and teaching.
What are the benefits of volunteering at Citizens Advice Watford?
Volunteers offer their services for nothing but are rewarded by the satisfaction of helping others in their community. We reimburse all reasonable expenses incurred in travelling to and from the office or other venue. Volunteering can provide you with training and experience in key skills which are valued by prospective employers or offer routine and structure to those no longer in paid employment. Volunteers forge bonds and friendships with each other through social interaction with like-minded people working towards a common goal. We hold regular monthly meetings, an annual summer party and a Christmas lunch to celebrate the dedication and commitment of all our volunteers.