Youth Achievement Awards as an alternative to MV?

I’ve mentioned before that the Millennium Volunteers’ Award of Excellence (currently the main accredited award we give to young people in Solent Youth Action) might not be around forever, and that one of the focus’ of the new V charity is formal recognition for volunteering. As such, it is useful to know what alternative programmes are around.

Which ones will the young people that we work with get the most of? Which one has the highest profile and, which are likely to be around the longest?

With this in mind, I’ve been reading about the Youth Achievement Awards run by UK Youth – a national youth work charity.

The first thing I notice is that there are seven different levels to the Youth Achievement Awards – which is an improvement, I think, on the all-or-nothing approach of the MV Award of Excellence. There are several differences between the different levels, but the focus appears to be the amount of involvement of the young person in planning and running their voluntary activity themselves – with an element of leadership needed for the more senior awards.

Another difference is the commitment required. In terms of number of hours of volunteering required, these awards sound less demanding: MV requires 200 hours of volunteering, where even the highest level Youth Achievement Award needs only about 120 hours.

The emphasis of the schemes seem to be the biggest difference. MV seems to focus on skills development and the contribution to society and community. The Youth Achievement Awards (as you get to the more senior ones) seem to be more entrepreneurial in nature – identifying a need, planning and organising an activity, taking on a leadership role for it, and evaluating and giving a presentation afterwards.

This is an interesting perspective – I’m not sure what I think of it yet. On the one hand, I can see that this emphasis would be very useful for some young people. The structure of the awards would be a good fit for many of the groups of young people that we work with, and is a good match for the youth-led activities and clubs that we support.

On the other hand, what about a young person who regularly volunteers as a classroom assistant in a local school? Imagine someone who likes working with children, maybe interested in a future in teaching, who is a reliable and consistent long-term volunteer. This sort of activity would absolutely be recognised by an MV Award of Excellence, which would recognise their commitment and highlight the skills in teaching and communication that they will have gained.

But where would they fit in to the Youth Achievement Awards? Even the lowest level award – the ‘Youth Challenge’, is structured around “a 30-hour programme of six five-hour activities”. Should they have to do their volunteering in five-hour blocks? This seems like a bit of a problem – I’m not sure that the ‘Challenge’ structure fits all types of volunteering. And it is unlikely that my imaginary classroom assistant volunteer will have done much to organise or plan their volunteering sessions, or taken a significant leadership role. As such, they’d be excluded from most of the higher level Awards.

This is where I guess I’m a little unsure – it feels like what looks to me as a value placed on entrepreneurial development seems to undervalue the other skills and benefits that young people get from voluntary work. Even though I know there are a number of problems with the MV Award of Excellence model, I think it is still more suitable for a lot of our work.

It might not have to be one or the other – perhaps we could offer both and target the different schemes to young people as appropriate. It will depend on the overhead of administering the UK Youth awards scheme, and how much work it will involve. Obviously delivering any such programme is quite an investment for a small organisation like us, so it’s not something we would do without careful consideration.

Finally, it’s probably worth highlighting that I am not speaking with any authority about the UK Youth awards – I am just rambling about my impression of them having spent an evening reading through the material on their website. I may have massively mis-interpreted their scheme, and I will be looking into it in more detail in the New Year with the other SYA trustees to make a more informed decision. In the meantime, if you really want to know what their scheme is like, it is probably worth taking a look for yourself 🙂

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