VOLUNTEER: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A TRAINEE
A Day in the Life of a Trainee
I joined Citizens Advice in 2008 as part of the reception team. Blimey, I hear you say that’s a long time ago! I had done volunteering work before, but after a life changing event for my family and myself in 2004, when the dust had settled a little, I felt that it was time to change volunteer tack, perhaps bringing the more positive parts of what I had experienced with me.
Citizens Advice is a very different place now to what it was then. For a start, we were in a building which, on reflection, perhaps did not really have the facilities needed for its varied clients, but still delivering the service to the best possible standard. I believe, I too am now a very different person to the volunteer who timidly started on reception all those years ago. In those days training was on the job and there were some very interesting and diverse people on that team, I can tell you!
A few years later the term “gateway” was introduced (a short advice session rather than the original 45 minute appointment which was all that was available at that point). I decided to train to deliver advice in this way and was finally signed off in 2011 after everyone else. At that point still slightly less confident than my fellow trainees. Since then, I have gone on to give telephone advice, can sign off trainees myself and am able to fill in benefits forms which if successful for clients can go a long way to making life more comfortable for them.
I have had the opportunity to take part in various training courses to enhance my knowledge and skillset. I have also met many different people with whom I have volunteered over the years, some of whom I now call my close friends.
This type of volunteering can be a challenge, but it is very interesting and varied. The knowledge acquired and the experiences gained are a huge boost to the confidence. Most of all though knowing that hopefully as part of the CA team, I have made a difference to someone, helped make things a little better for them, then that is the best experience of all.
Having been with CASL a few years now I can say that the experience has been very interesting, educational and occasionally challenging. You get to meet a variety of interesting people - volunteers, clients and CASL staff. The environment is always cheerful and supportive particularly when dealing with the wide range of issues that can be presented. While debt and benefits queries are frequent issues you never know what challenges clients want help with and this is what makes what makes it so interesting and rewarding. Clients issues can range from very simple to the extremely complex and although the training is well structured and comprehensive learning on the job is an important element of being a volunteer. However there are always experienced people available to offer support if required.
I volunteered at the Spalding office initially as an assessor, the training was well presented using a variety of learning methods, being with a group made the training fun as well as informative. I felt I was supported through the transition to meeting clients with the more experienced volunteers and staff always willing to give advice. Although meeting clients can be initially daunting it is the best way to gain confidence and a working knowledge . I am now an adviser after further training but am constantly learning and gaining knowledge in dealing with the variety of issues that clients bring.The Spalding Office is a busy office with a good team to work with,it has its own range of clients which makes it interesting with no two sessions being the same. Volunteering was a good decision for me which has proved to be both challenging and rewarding.
It is Christmas, 3 months before I am due to retire after 46 years in full-time employment. My family are interrogating me about my intentions for retirement: “you will be bored”, “you will feel unfulfilled”, “you might become depressed”; all of which is code for; “I don’t want you under my feet all day!” Secretly, I am dreaming of a season ticket for fly fishing at Rutland Water, digging out my easel and watercolours and spending more time with the Telegraph crossword.
It is January, 2 months to go and my wife presented me with a cutting from the local paper: “New Call for Volunteers to Join the CAB”. She thinks it would be good for me to do something worthwhile with my time (and get out of the house). OK, I read the article and I admit it does sound interesting. I am particularly impressed with the Citizens Advice commitment to diversity and the promotion of equality. I contact the Training Officer and a week later I am being interviewed and invited to join the training programme.
I start training in May and I quickly realise that I have a lot to learn. I am joined by other new trainees of all ages and from all backgrounds; we are joined by a common bond; a commitment to help others. The Training Officer ensures that learning is fun and never dull. We learn about greeting clients, recording their details, and interview techniques. Over the next 5 months our training includes; debt, housing and tenancies, employment issues, welfare reform, relationship breakdown and benefits. We also learn about Hate Crime and discrimination.
It is daunting to imagine this amount of study; however, as volunteers we have access to some excellent resources, which we will be able to refer to in the future when helping clients. There is also the Supervisor, who is the font of all knowledge, infinitely patient and always on hand to help volunteers who are in a hole and have forgotten to stop digging!
In between training sessions we are encouraged to attend the office and “Shadow” experienced Advisers. I have been fortunate to be allowed to witness several Gateway and Advice sessions with a range of experienced volunteers who have been extremely supportive and patient. My next step is to take the lead with a client whilst being observed by an Assessor. This is when it becomes real and you realise that someone is relying on you to help them.
The process of becoming a Citizens Advice volunteer has been longer and more demanding than I expected. However, once I realised the importance of giving accurate, appropriate and impartial advice to clients who are often in difficult circumstances, it was clear that the training was vitally important. I hope to complete my training in the next few weeks and then I can start the learning curve for real!
I wonder if the clients will be aware that they are helping me as much as I am hopefully helping them?’
I joined CASL not really knowing what to expect - but had a desire to try to help people if I possibly could.
The interview was friendly and informative. I had the opportunity to meet another volunteer so heard all about the CASL from the “horse's mouth.”
There is a really good training programme which is to ensure that as an organisation we provide a consistent and professional service and also gives you the skills to start.
At the end of the course I started seeing clients on my own; but I have constant backup.
Everyday is different, seeing different people, and everyday I learn something new. I have found new friends amongst my work colleagues who are supportive and friendly. My reward for the time I volunteer is knowing that, in many cases, I have been able to assist someone to move forward with their problem.
‘I was very keen to put myself forward as a volunteer at Citizens Advice having retired from a career in Education. I have many transferable skills and felt that I had much experience of dealing with problems and offering advice. From the outset, staff, trainers and volunteers alike at our local office, were welcoming and supportive.
Immediately I was accepted as a volunteer and embarked on the training programme, it became apparent that CA has a huge remit, dealing with a breathtaking range of enquiries and issues each day. Initially, I found the training quite daunting as we were learning about complex issues, such as debt, without no opportunity to use our new found knowledge in practice. However, when I began to shadow Gateway assessors carrying out interviews with clients, and see the whole process in action, it all began to make sense. Experienced assessors and advisers bring to life all the theory of impartiality, sensitivity and empathy.
One of the concerns of a new volunteer is that we won’t know the answer - but we don’t need to! The information system is excellent, updated daily and linked to other relevant websites. The information will be there and more importantly, there is a supervisor to refer to. It was refreshing to observe experienced assessors conferring with work supervisors to obtain maximum benefit for the client.
The training programme itself covers a range of issues and places them into context by using scenarios which allow volunteers to gain some experience in finding the information needed to help the client. Trainers, whether local or national, have vast subject knowledge and deliver the programme with sensitivity, flexibility and some humour!
I’m looking forward to be signed off and becoming an official volunteer at CASL. I feel that my local office has captured the ethos of Citizens Advice and this is apparent in the shared aim of meeting the needs of clients and helping them gain the best outcome.’
‘My name is Peter, When I retired a few years ago I was looking for a new challenge. I wanted to help those less fortunate than myself and to use my business experience and knowledge. An ex-colleague suggested Citizens Advice (CA)
I am disabled as I have Parkinson’s disease. This has not been a barrier to my work at CA. I have been given every opportunity to participate in all aspects of the work and given help by my colleagues where appropriate. I have not been put under any pressure and feel very comfortable about working for CA.I would encourage more disabled people to become volunteers.
Despite many years of business experience I have certainly found all the training I have had to have been worthwhile. While the first few training sessions were about CA aims, principles, policies, systems and record keeping it was not long before I became involved in the application of practical skills in case studies in a tutorial style environment
Further courses covered client interviewing and negotiation. We also covered some key subject areas such as benefits, debt, housing, employment, immigration, consumer and discrimination. There can be several of these areas involved in a single case. For example debt, benefits, employment, housing and family. We are trained to get all the information needed.
I have found the training courses provided by the internal training team to be excellent. They usually involve practical experience through case studies as well as the theory. There are also opportunities for self learning, In my view we all need to make the most of all the training opportunities that are made available.
Once key areas had been covered I began to observe live customer interviews and this is where much of the learning about the application of the knowledge takes place. Initially, I did not participate in the interview but there were often discussions with the adviser who conducted the interview about the cases and I learned a lot from this. After a while I began to do case write ups in the recording system and also to participate in the live interviews under the supervision of an experienced adviser.
I have found that the experienced advisers I have worked with to be very helpful, keen to share their knowledge and to help me gain the experience I need.
We live in an increasingly complex society. There is often an unequal power balance between our clients and their employers, lenders, bankers and landlords etc. We help to restore that balance. This may involve identifying possible discrimination.
We are trained to recognise issues that affect the wider community and how these can be dealt with. This may result in changes to government policy.
It is a great feeling when you help a client with a number of issues deal with those matters. They may have been very worried when they came into the office but were much happier when they left. This is the point at which you know that all your training has been worthwhile.’
‘My ‘new recruit’ training started at the beginning of May and is just about to come to an end at the end of this month (September) – although I can see from the training schedule that training session are continuously held for all advisers on a wide variety of topics and indeed ensure that volunteers are kept up to date with changes in law and updates in best practice.
The training days have been enjoyable, held in a forum with a wide variety of other people, ranging from retired corporate individuals, to law and social-work undergraduates, to people like myself, who just have extra time on their hands and want to make a contribution back to their local community. The format of the training days has been very interactive, working individually, in pairs or even in larger groups, with everyone wanting to contribute to the learning outcomes of the training session.
The training topics are obviously centred on helping us to understand and provide detailed insight into the process of helping clients when they come into their local CA office, as well as training on other forms of communication such as advice line or web chat.
However some of the training sessions have been about making us understand our attitudes to common issues, which in our ‘previous lives’ we may have been just unaware of or uninformed about. Such as the correct way to address people – being made aware that some individuals may be offended by common name tags that we might use in our everyday dialogues.
In addition to specific training days, I have shadowed advisers in both the Grantham and Stamford office. This is a great way to actually really understand what the training sessions mean in practice. In the sessions I shadowed, clients brought a wide range of issues, from serious and complicated, which needed to be forwarded to a caseworker, to a simple clarification about a benefit entitlement. I was relieved to understand from experienced advisers that they might not always be able to find the needed information at their fingertips there and then, but that supervisors were always available to give guidance and confirmation that information being passed to the client was indeed correct.’
When I retired, I was looking for some voluntary work - something I had managed to take part in at school, but later on when I was working, and had a family, there never seemed to be enough time.
I wanted to try to give back something to the community, to continue to learn and to be involved with people.
I was enrolled in the assessor training and I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this. It was a very valuable experience - delving into areas about which I knew nothing. I still try to take any opportunity I can to refresh knowledge, gain further knowledge and to keep up to date in an ever-changing environment.
I am involved in Adviceline once a week; each week is different, presenting various issues and challenges. I find it satisfying trying to help clients and I receive a huge amount of support from those I report to. Added to this I work with an amazing group of staff and volunteers.
‘I’d considered becoming a Citizens Advice volunteer for some time. I’ve always enjoyed chatting to people and felt that the experience would be interesting and would give me a far more accurate view of society than the broadcast media.
After attending a very friendly and informal interview I was sent a training timetable. It was with trepidation that I turned up to the first session. However, once the slightly nervous introductions were out of the way it was actually rather fun! The fellow volunteers are a friendly bunch and the training supervisor always ensures that it is a safe, fun and relaxed experience.
The first few sessions dealt with CA aims and principles, outlined the structure of the organisation and day to day procedures. Moving on we discussed: communicating with clients, questioning skills, interpretation, information sources and record keeping procedures. I was really encouraged by the emphasis placed upon providing a totally non-judgemental service.
Once the basics were covered we were encouraged to shadow experienced volunteers, sitting in and observing actual advice sessions. Fascinating, not knowing what type of enquiry would present itself next, such a diverse range of topics. Most clients were appreciative and it was clear that the majority have a great deal of respect for the CA service and place a lot of trust in the information provided. Obviously this places quite a weighty responsibility upon the volunteer! Luckily an experienced session supervisor is always available to confirm details and to take over when necessary.
Before being let loose on the public there is a final ‘interview skills’ training session with an outside CA trainer. Slightly daunting, this consisted of scenarios, interpretation, lots of discussion and a small amount of the dreaded ‘role play’ - luckily this was only in very small groups!
Ongoing training is available and the majority of it is extremely tempting – it’s quite easy to become a bit of a ‘training junkie’! Some of the courses are in-house and include exploring the main enquiry areas in more depth and discussing the possible scenarios which may present in bureau. Courses and short presentations from a huge variety outside agencies are available. Everything from: substance misuse, immigration, housing, tax, employment rights, bankruptcy, mortgage repossession through to visiting the local food bank.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience so far. It has been informative, entertaining, amusing and on occasions extremely surprising. I suppose this is to be expected considering my fellow volunteers come from a diverse range of backgrounds and a vast age range.
Friends expecting me to become a mine of information overnight have been sadly disappointed. However, having a basic knowledge of each of the main enquiry areas is really useful, I feel more confident to do further research and check the specific details. Also, being able to dispel a few prejudices in the pub on a Saturday night feels good!
The training has made me stop and think about many issues which don’t normally feature in my every-day life. I’d like to feel that I am a slightly more informed, open mind and tolerant individual as a result.’
Volunteering with Citizens Advice can be a great way to enhance your career prospects, improve your skills or present a challenge if you don’t have to work or are retired. I my own case I had retired but did not relish the thought of fading into obscurity.
The training is the very best that you could expect. We are given all the tools and support to provide a first class service. You will hear good things about Citizens on further investigation.
It is a wonderful thing to see people’s lives turn around during and after they have been to see us. It has been a privilege to help others in a meaningful way and make a difference to their lives.
My clients have given me so much; my colleagues are the most amazing people.
I have developed into a more rounded person, thanks to my volunteering. I am more socially aware; I have skills which were previously unknown to me; I have empathy for others; I care what happens to them; I fight injustice and discrimination.
A day in the life of a Citizens Advice volunteer is to feel admiration for the dedication of staff and volunteers; the opportunity to help others; to receive the gift of knowledge from our clients and share their situations with empathy and humanity.
I share their hurt, their desperation, the feeling of helplessness, the discrimination, the debt and the despair. I give them hope for the future, I give them my ears to listen with, I shown them another life, another way. Together, with others, I can make a difference to people’s lives in the name of this great organisation called Citizens Advice.
I was made redundant and retired early after 30 years working in the pharmaceutical industry. I wanted to do more voluntary work and got chatting to someone in my village about CA as he already volunteered there.
After a short interview I joined a group of new starters at the beginning of 2017. We were given comprehensive training in what CA is and it’s history, followed by detailed work on all the topics that CA advises on, with emphasis on the major areas of benefits, debt, housing and work. The training is mostly done in-house by our specialist trainer but there are also other courses provided by CA head office or other training agencies.
After completing the training sessions, we were then encouraged to shadow more experienced colleagues at different CASL sites and get involved in helping clients where possible. For me this was a combination of shadowing and working on email enquiries. This helped make the transition from theory to actually helping people with real issues.
I then spent some time working on webchat, where clients who are browsing our website can opt to talk to chat with us online. This is a national system and so you can be helping people from anywhere in England and sometimes Scotland too. This was very good experience for learning how to develop a relationship with the client, ask pertinent questions, and learn to find information quickly.
I then started to work face to face clients as a Gateway Assessor and have been doing this for about a year at Stamford and at our outreach centre in Market Deeping. I have recently completed my training as an Adviser.
I work one day per week at the moment and find it very rewarding. With the emphasis on continuous learning, we are always gaining new skills and knowledge which we can use to help clients. We also have access to our experts in debt and benefits plus more experienced colleagues who are able to offer help with more complicated situations.
I am currently training to help clients complete benefit claim forms and I also contribute to the Research & Campaigns team within CASL and have been doing work on the numbers of Foodbank vouchers issued and the reasons why clients need them.
I would recommend the CA to anyone wanting to keep learning. It also gives you the opportunity to meet some brilliant, friendly, like-minded volunteers and staff, and to help other people at a time of need.
I could say that I volunteered for something to fill my retirement days, some truth in that, but mainly it was to assist those less fortunate than myself who are experiencing problems. The recruitment process was straightforward and quick. Initial training was comprehensive and provided in a professional manner. Ongoing training is always available and suited to my needs. Opportunities for assisting with more complex problem areas are available. Working on the frontline, Reception, I meet and discuss a range of problems with clients before deciding appropriate action. Days are busy, but you leave satisfied that you have helped someone solve their problem.
I commenced assessor training with citizens advice in August 2019 and completed this training in October.The training consisted of modules completed both in the classroom and on line.It was comprehensive and delivered in a friendly and encouraging learning environment.Since completing this training I have been volunteering one day a week at Grantham CA,carrying out face to face assessments.The diversity of issues that clients bring to the service is wide ranging.Support from fellow volunteers and my service co coordinator is always there if needed.I have found my time with CA to be challenging but equally rewarding and satisfying in the knowledge I am helping someone. The training is an aspect of the role which is ongoing and my journey with CA continues when I start my adviser training shortly.I am so pleased I have become involved with such an organisation as citizens advice.
I have always either done pro bono or charity work, as part of my “giving back” to society.
When I returned to the UK I saw a sandwich board asking for CAB volunteers and took the opportunity.
Hoping my expertise in Financial Services could be utilised, I signed up.
The training I received, however, was enlightening and clearly explained. I learned so much!
I am only sorry I could not help more, a new job taking all of my time now, but hope to return to CAB in the future and/or when work recedes a little.
I would encourage everyone to step up – the population needs you!