Workforce Development through National Service Programs

by Robin Hanson

An educated and skilled workforce is one of the top factors in determining business attraction and expansion decisions. We can think of the usual places to look for these candidates: college recruiting, job boards, career fairs. However, have you considered a VISTA alumnus to fill that next job?

Let’s take a step back. First, what is a VISTA? VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is part of the Corporation of National and Community Service. Most commonly thought of as the “domestic Peace Corps,” the AmeriCorps VISTA is a grant in human capital with a focus to start, strengthen or expand programs or services. Members serve a  one-year term in a nonprofit, education program or government, and build the capacity and sustainability of the project for the organization.

Next, how does this year of service benefit an employer in the business sector? According to the Voices for National Service here is how National Service leads to careers: 

  • National service helps young people better define their career pathways and assists them in moving to the next step. Forty-three percent of AmeriCorps alumni state that their service was aligned with their career path, and 79 percent say their service was a defining professional experience. 
  • National service helps young people develop into leaders, problem solvers and more active citizens. Nine out of ten AmeriCorps alumni reported that their service experience improved their ability to solve problems. Additionally, eight out of ten alums say that if they were confronted with a community issue, they could confidently develop a plan to address it and get others to care. 
  • National service is a powerful workforce development tool that has the power to lead to careers by providing young people with tangible skills — especially career-specific skills for self-management and interacting with others. 
  • On average, nine out of ten AmeriCorps alumni agreed or strongly agreed that they could solve difficult problems, persist when opposed, accomplish goals, handle unexpected events and unforeseen situations, remain calm, cope with difficulties, and identify multiple solutions. Alumni rated their current skills as higher than at pre-service, with the greatest gains being in their abilities to deal with unexpected events and unforeseen situations. A recent LinkedIn survey of hiring managers revealed that 59 percent believe these highly valued soft skills are difficult to find.

The Alliance VISTA team has VISTA members who are recent college graduates (many in their first job) who have spent a year doing projects around social media, marketing, recruiting and other hard skills that employers are looking for in potential new hires. We provide personal and professional development for the members, helping prepare them for their next job. These are your future problem solvers and idea generators. They represent the next generation of leaders in your organization. When you need to hire, consider reaching out to the Alliance for a VISTA alumnus. It may be one of the best recruiting tools you didn’t even know existed.

Robin Hanson is Program Manager at AmeriCorps VISTA, Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits

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