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Exploring Experience: Voluntary Work versus Unpaid Work

Pink Venus with cash © Juliette Stuart, Graduate showcase,
Written by
Careers and Employability
Published date
17 April 2024

Ever wondered how successful creatives made it to where they are in their careers? How did they break in? It's an exciting journey filled with opportunities like creating self-projects for your portfolio or...gaining experience through unpaid internships.

Sometimes, it’s tricky to decide whether to pursue unpaid work. From passion projects to helping at charities, let's unravel how these opportunities are classified and what factors to consider if you’re contemplating any of them.

Volunteers and Voluntary Workers

According to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), being a ‘volunteer’ is not the same as a ‘voluntary worker’. Being a volunteer means offering your time and skills without expecting payment – it could be anything from crafting passion projects to helping a friend. But voluntary workers take it a step further. They're committed to providing services without pay but they have a contract in place. While they don’t get wages, they will receive benefits like accommodation, travel or lunch reimbursements. They are also entitled to the same rest breaks and holiday as workers and employees. Sometimes people from overseas can volunteer but can’t do voluntary work.

We're all about championing voluntary work at non-profits that offer graduate-level experience. It's not just about giving your time but gaining invaluable insights and skills while making a positive impact. We will not advertise roles that we suspect may be exploitative, unpaid work and these opportunities should have mutually agreed expectations on the organisation's professional standards, commitment to, and expectations from its volunteers.

Having said all that, voluntary work can be an exciting journey full of perks! Dive into various tasks to boost skills like communication and teamwork. Plus, you'll connect with awesome people who share your passions – who knows where these connections might lead? It's a fantastic way to explore new career paths, gain experience, and feel great about making a positive impact. But remember, it's not all smooth sailing; you might face challenges like financial constraints and limited training. Still, with a proactive attitude, you can turn these hurdles into opportunities for growth!

Internships, work experience and placements

These terms are used interchangeably by different organisations and are your gateway to gaining hands-on experience. At Creative Opportunities, we post paid internships (with National Minimum Wage) because your time and talent deserve recognition intern and by law, you are entitled to the National Minimum Wage if you count as a worker.

We have a placement section for credit bearing internships, which under UK law, are less than a year during a UK-based further or higher education course, and so workers are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage.

If an internship only involves shadowing an employee, the employer does not have to pay minimum wage as no work has been carried out by the intern while only observing. Please note international students on any type of student visa will have different conditions. For full details on roles we offer and our criteria, please visit our About page.

If you are looking for opportunities to gain experience to start your career, why not check out Creative Opportunities? Run by Careers and Employability, it is the go-to hub for creative students and graduates. You can find jobs, paid internships, competitions, and volunteering roles. If you are studying an art, design, communications, or a performance course or have recently graduated, then this is the place for you! Our goal is to help you achieve your ambitions and make a living doing what you love.