Backstage passes: The (student) volunteer experience

Aaron McIntosh: Robert Gordon University

Volunteers form a significant part of the workforce in delivering a variety of events, whether sporting, cultural, entertainment or business focused.  As part of their programmes of study, as a personal interest, or both, undergraduate students fulfil a number of these voluntary roles in events big and small, local, national and (occasionally) international, often undertaking vocational training and developing useful skill-sets (Costa et al, 2006; Nichols & Ralston, 2012) in achieving some of the ‘real-life’ experience desired by events industry employers (Beaven & Wright, 2006).  Through this experience, student volunteers can also gain entry to previously inaccessible venues and occasions, engaging in what might be termed as working-holiday tourism (Bianchi, 2000; Uriely, 2001). This paper draws upon quantitative and qualitative data sets (survey and focus groups), developed by sampling students from years one to four of the BA(Hons) Events Management programme at Robert Gordon University, Scotland.  It focuses upon the potential dual nature of student work experience, cultivating social networks and creating memorable and enjoyable life experiences, alongside vocational development towards a graduate career. It makes use of Stebbin’s (2007, 2011) notion of serious leisure and Pine and Gilmore’s (1999, 2011) concept of the experience economy, and builds upon seminal works exploring the work-leisure relationship from a sociological perspective (Parker, 1983; Roberts, 2006).  This research has been undertaken as part of a wider evaluation of the programme’s work experience model, and is expected to help inform future practice, in supporting students to greater employability and a rewarding, well-rounded, undergraduate experience.

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