Gen Y: The Volunteer Workforce?

by | Jul 14, 2011

Unpaid  - the volunteer workforce

Imogen Woodward

Imogen Woodward

I graduated a few weeks ago and am currently amongst the mass of young people facing their uncertain futures.  I have experienced a range of feelings over the last few months from pure excitement and anticipation to sheer dread of the impending  9 to 5  life that awaits me.

The most peculiar thing is the suddenness of leaving education, an institution that has guided me throughout my life. It has been constant and secure.  Now I must embark on adult life...alone. What if I get it wrong? I am, or have been until now, a wistful English student, with dreams of doing many different jobs throughout my life, and yes, a part of me does still want to be an astronaut, but to be completely truthful I feel I would be comfortable and work well in most environments. So where do I start?  How do I discover what I’m good at? These questions, paired with a feeling of paralysis from the enormous range of careers a modern woman can choose from, have left me stuck in some sort of real life ‘purgatory’.

Stumbling Block

This sense of impending  freedom is often hobbled by new conventions as we negotiate the modern-day hell for any new graduate: internships!  Gen Y are being turned into the biggest volunteer workforce of all time.  One of the biggest challenges facing graduates today is the "not enough experience"  barrier.  There is now an expectation that every graduate  C.V.  should include not one, but preferably several, internship positions. These are mostly unpaid and often arduous jobs. Many, like me, have to work without pay to gain the necessary work experience simply to get on rung one of a career ladder.  Alternatively we can return to live with our parents and go back to that good old pub job we thought we’d never work again.


I was fortunate to work as a part-time intern in the final months of my degree.  I gained invaluable experience in a prestigious organisation, AND my expenses were reimbursed!  Unfortunately not everyone has such a positive tale. Some are more long term members of this volunteer workforce. Some of my talented and hard-up friends have shared their experiences of unkept promises for paid work around endless corners. They encountered entire sectors manned mostly by volunteers.


Sadly, it’s clear that some industries and organisations are taking advantage of the current economic climate by giving false hope to graduates about job prospects in order to tap into free labour supplies.  With so many graduates entering the job market, asking for a paid job when someone else will undercut you by working unpaid, simply to gain experience, means that we see no option but to jump on the bandwagon.

Yet we all still  hope that the work we do will lead to the start of a great career.

by Imogen Woodward

Imogen graduated with a degree in English in June 2011 and is looking forward to her exciting next step!  Already experienced in retail, event management and marketing promotion her dream is to find an opportunity in one of these areas.

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