#iwill Ambassador story: From volunteer to career

7 July 2020

“My first job interview for an apprenticeship, I had no ‘work experience’ whatsoever…”

Patrick Cantellow became an #iwill Ambassador in 2016, following his work with  NCS and Swale Young People. He is now Chair of Youth Employment UK’s Youth Board. Here, Patrick speaks to Youth Employment UK about how his social action journey has given him the skills, connections and inspiration to build his career.


You are a great ambassador for social action having started quite young, can you tell me about the types of activity and organisations you have been involved with?

I have gotten involved with everything from online safety to youth empowerment.

For a few years, I worked very closely with the NSPCC, promoting online child safety at conferences, stakeholder and Parliamentary events. Through this, I connected with the Children’s Commissioner for England, National Children’s Bureau and #iwill – which itself provided huge amounts of opportunities I never would have been able to access.

As I grew older and began thinking about my university choices, I attended Youth Employment UK’s Youth Friendly Employer conference, which brought down my ignorant views that apprenticeships were only for trades. I discovered they were also in digital, accountancy, business, creative and more. The rest is history. I have played a very active role with Youth Employment UK to promote apprenticeships and further education.

To support youth employment efforts in my local area, I delivered a three-year youth project which received public funding to find opportunities for young people, fund the travel for those opportunities and host numerous events to prompt collaboration between businesses, organisations and schools.


What made you first decide to get involved in social action? 

I wanted to do something – I was getting quite bored at a young age and wanted to muck in with something long-term outside of school. Frustratingly, I wasn’t really in a position to fund the travel for some of the opportunities living in a semi-rural area. However, the first opportunity with the NSPCC covered the cost of a train ticket – and it was there I caught the social action bug.


What do you feel you have personally gained from your social action journey?

The number one thing social action has given me is the absolute privilege of meeting and working with the sheer amount of amazing young people, organisations and individuals that I have.

I have made many, many friends, benefited from connections and heard inspiring stories that I know I will come back to throughout my life.


Has social action prepared you for your career?

Yes, I confess this is why I got involved with it all in the first place. I wanted to grow my CV to help me get a job.

My first job interview for an apprenticeship, I had no “work experience” whatsoever, yet my experience volunteering was explained with a skills focus, it taught me to work with different types of people, I understood how to influence decisions and it also removed some of the nerves in meeting new people during a job interview.


Through school and now work how have you managed to meet your social action commitments and have some spare time!?

Social action very quickly became my hobby.

Where you meet so many new people through social action, you make friends and in some cases, from across the UK. Social action is an excellent opportunity to catch up with those peers whilst making a difference – so it became less of a chore to find the time because I wanted to find it.

I was fortunate to have a school that recognised the contribution to my personal development social action brings, so the odd day off was OK – as long as I caught up on any work! It also helped that schemes such as NCS took place in the summer holidays.

At work, I have had different experiences. Some employers are more than happy to give an almost unlimited number of days off for social action – again recognising the contribution from a personal development standpoint, but also a business and brand one too, and some employers request that it be taken as annual leave, and you have to respect that. Last year, 96% of my annual leave went on social action – but as mentioned earlier, I want to find that time.

I am planning a getaway next year, so the stat might be slightly different if you ask me again in the future.


What have been your most memorable experiences?

There are quite a few.

The first is where I caught the social action bug with the NSPCC back in 2014, attending their annual “Invaders Day”. I was chucked right in the deep end presenting to potential ChildLine volunteers on why they should donate their free time to the important helpline. I and my peers (becoming very good friends) must have wowed them because we became regular volunteers for the charity.

Three others stand out.

Attending the European Congress of Local Governments representing Youth Employment UK – being my first volunteering trip abroad (actually, my first time abroad since I was a toddler) plus talking to fellow panel members via live translation was a very surreal experience.

With the NSPCC, I also got to attend a private reception inside Buckingham Palace – with real royals!

Lastly, and I think it’s once I didn’t recognise at the time, that Swale Young People did support a fair number of young people in our local area to access opportunities and upskill themselves.

I also didn’t appreciate how much I learned by managing a three-year youth project, everything from managing partners and stakeholders to accounting and marketing, to safeguarding to politics.

I am really glad I delivered on that myself, selling my belongings to get it started and ultimately, leaving some form of legacy.


Why do you think it is important for young people to take up social action?

For many years, I’ve spoken about the double benefit of social action.

One, the benefit for the community. I talk about this one first to set the mindset. An individual through the smallest method of social action, such as sharing an important story on social media, to the largest actions such as organising a deep clean for a local skatepark, has a domino affect in helping others, inspiring others and just making others, and yourself happy.

The second, the benefit for yourself. You meet new people, you meet local figureheads, you make change, you grow your CV and experience and you can change lives as well as your own. Employers look for life experience, not just dissertation or exam expertise.


What advice would you give to a young person thinking about getting involved in some form of social action?

Do it.

You may feel nervous, I, like many others, got very close to bailing out of NCS, but within moments you realise others around you are too, and you have so much fun, you will regret not taking part.

Purpose – who are you helping and why? Is it close to you or your family, such as supporting a local hospice or skatepark? 

For you – what are you getting out of it? Is it knowing you are supporting someone or an organisation that is close to you? Is it upskilling you by learning something new and can go on your CV?

The people – are you meeting new people? You might not like the idea of meeting strangers but as I have alluded to throughout this interview – that is one of the best bits.


Do you think employers should give more credit to young people who have been involved in social action through the recruitment process? Why?

I am in a lucky position being surrounded by employers who recognise the contribution social action adds to an individuals work ethos, team and personal skills.

If I was in a position where I had two equal candidates work experience or education wise – but one had no social action and the other had taken part in NCS, I’m almost certainly going to value the latter applicant. I may be biased because I know how positive NCS and social action can be, but I will be surprised if an employer doesn’t recognise the added benefit.

Recognition of active citizenship should be formally recognised during the recruitment process – particularly in larger businesses and corporations who have more guided processes in place. 


Do you think employers should give staff members time off for their social action activities, why?

I generally think employers are coming around to the fact, that at least one day a year for social action, can significantly improve the happiness of staff and therefore retention of talent.

It also doesn’t have to be considered as a day off anymore. Businesses are increasingly becoming the brands’ people look to make a difference in the world, especially where Government may be too slow. Climate change, for example, businesses from across all verticals are now pledging to go carbon neutral, heck even carbon negative!

Get your people involved in the development of these schemes, if their day job as an accountant or customer service adviser also comes with the opportunity to change the world, then you’re in for happier people. Happier people means more productivity.


You support Youth Employment UK and the Youth Friendly Employer Mark why is this?

The Youth Friendly Employer Mark is a cornerstone trust mark in allowing young people to find employers who recognise the value young people bring to a business. The mark demonstrates that employers actively recruit and offer work experience to young adults.

For those businesses, it demonstrates a commitment to young people and connects them with Youth Employment UK’s Young Professionals and our expert advice and guidance.


What are the benefits of youth social action for young people?

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