Jo Parkes is a Project Officer at RAF Air Cadet headquarters and has been since 2004. She always wanted to be become a volunteer after she joined as a cadet 10 years earlier when she was 15. Jo chats to SaluteMyJob about how employers and ex-Service men and women can get involved with the air cadets - and how rewarding being a volunteer can be.
More than 31,000 young people, aged between 12 and 19 years are Royal Air Force Air Cadets. Founded in 1941, the air cadets celebrated their 75th anniversary last year with a huge number of events taking place to mark the milestone across the UK. Today the ATC consists of six regions, 34 Wings and almost 1,000 Squadrons. But the ATC would not be possible without adult volunteers, who each play a key role in continuing to deliver the air cadet experience to the next generation.
“There are various levels you can volunteer and it does not matter what your background is, we have ex-military, parents of cadets, people from all walks of life,” explained Jo. “If you can’t commit a lot of time, the smallest commitment is to be on the civilian committee. Or you can become a civilian instructor, a chaplain, a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer or Commissioned Officer. Most volunteers will be on a Squadron and we look for volunteers to do a variety of things. Management, admin, teaching, project work, preparing for camps and adventure training. There are lots of different things you can do in the cadets and lots of different ways you can help.”
Jo said for her, being a volunteer is most rewarding when you see someone achieving something they weren’t sure they could do. “When you take a bunch of teenagers on a high ropes course and it’s a bit scary and they need to push themselves, it’s going to sound really tripe but seeing the camaraderie that is there and seeing some really quite young people show some amazing personal skills, leadership and drive is incredibly rewarding,” she said.
Young people, between the ages of 12 and 19 can join the cadets - and the sky's the limit for the training, life experience and qualifications they can gain during their time in the cadets.
“One of the things we have done over the last decade or so is try to make sure all the qualifications you do in the cadets are recognised in a civilian way. And the same goes for staff as well,” said Jo. For example, as a volunteer, you can get anything from a BTEC Level 3 Award in Education and Training to a City and Guilds Level 7 Membership in Leadership and Management, which is the equivalent of a Master's Degree.
Employers can get involved through providing sponsorship or becoming a beneficiary but Jo said, getting involved in the cadets is not just an altruistic thing to do. “As an employer, knowing you have staff who are in the air cadets, is hugely beneficial. There are skills they are going to get out of being a volunteer that are transferable in the workplace. I know, for me, being in the cadets has done a lot for my personal development. I’m certainly a lot more confident now and prepared to have a go at things and I have a real ‘can-do’ attitude.”
And who can volunteer?
“There isn’t specific criteria but volunteers are subject to a CRB check. Volunteers come from all walks of life. And we have people with all types of interests. We have people who bring a real skill in photography, music and we have some Squadrons who are quite involved in mechanical projects,” explained Jo.
Jo said ex-Forces personnel make great volunteers. “I think it can be useful for ex-Forces personnel to become volunteers because transitioning completely into civilian life can be a bit challenging. Having something that feels like a little bit like you are used to, can be good. Someone with a military background is going to have a lot of relevant experience and skillset to share with the cadets, such as adventure training, or medical training.”
And what would ex-Service men and women get out of volunteering?
“There is so much value to get out of being a volunteer. It is not about trying to keep a hold of your Service career, but it is keeping your foot in the door. The courses and qualifications you can get out of it, the overall enjoyment - there’s so much value to be had. You just need to get that balance of sharing that relevant experience and not being stuck in the past,” added Jo.
If you are interested in become a volunteer or you are an employer wanting to get involved, visit https://www.raf.mod.uk/aircadets/