Graduating AmeriCorps Members and Career Transition Needs

For a course in training needs assessment, I have been researching the career transitions needs of AmeriCorps members in Oregon the past couple of months.

Happy AmeriCorps Week! Drawing by Matt Honore - Oregon State Service Corps staffer + AmeriCorps alum

So far I’ve:

  • looked at extant data, including past pre-workshop surveys, interview transcripts, and studies like Diana Epstein’s The Long-Term Impacts of AmeriCorps on Participants and
  • conducted a pilot study, specifically a survey of 41 Oregon AmeriCorps and VISTA members who are within four months of ending their terms of service.
The pilot study focused primarily on career pathing and networking — skills, attitudes, and performance needs. It’s interesting what is rising to the surface.
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The first thing that jumped out at me in general was that members are thinking about their post-AmeriCorps plan far earlier than I had anticipated. 81 percent were thinking about next steps by Day One of their term. I was thinking the majority would hover around the 6-month mark, once they got a handle on their service project.
Networking
A paradox emerged from the data on networking. The majority of members who responded to the survey rely on networking (with people more established in their careers, as well as with friends and family members) as their top strategies for investigating next steps.
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However, the vast majority of members also find networking problematic in a range of ways — from not knowing whom to network with, to feeling like they are bothering the people they want to network with. In fact, only 24 percent of members said networking was unproblematic for them.
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Strikingly, networking skills correlate with a more positive attitude toward the transition. For the 24 percent of corps members who find networking unproblematic:
  • 88 percent are optimistic/hopeful about the end of their term and their transition to next steps (compared with 65 percent who find networking problematic, and 70 percent overall).
  • 50 percent are “anxious/worried” (compared with 59 percent who find networking problematic, and 56 percent overall).
I’d love to know whether people with a good attitude towards their next steps also happen to have a good attitude towards networking — or if there’s a causal relationship (in either direction) among the two.
Career pathing
The other skill area I looked at included career pathing. I started by looking at survey results for people who report having their plans “firmly in place” — but the arc of their responses for all other questions looked really similar to overall responses.
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For people who are thinking primarily in terms of the role or job function they’ll play:
  • More are optimistic about the impending transition — 91 percent vs. 45 percent who aren’t thinking in terms of role (and 70 percent overall)
  • Most plan to search for jobs after AmeriCorps (versus planning to go to grad school, travel, or do another term of service)
  • The overwhelming majority — 92 percent — plan to find a job when the term ends (versus 36 percent of others)
  • 58 percent started thinking about their post-AmeriCorps career move before they started their term (versus 39 percent of others)
  • More than any other strategy to prepare for next steps, this group relied on reflection (92 percent — most other groups relied most on networking)
  • This group also relied on the widest variety of resources — 8 of those I listed as options in the survey
What’s fascinating to me about this set of numbers is that if I just look at people who are planning to get a job after the corps, a huge number are anxious (72 percent for job seekers overall; 54 percent for those focusing on their professional role) or at least uncertain (64 percent for job seekers overall; only 45 percent for those focusing on their role).
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On the other hand, among members who are focusing more on the issue they care about in their career:
  • 69 percent are excited about the transition! No one else is excited about it. Well, only 26 percent of others are excited about it.
  • 69 percent are heading to grad school (might explain the excitement) — whereas only 19 percent of others are going to grad school
  • 100 percent started thinking about next steps by Day One in the corps
Hmmm…
It appears that focusing on the role you’ll play in the workforce ain’t a bad strategy — at least if attitude is a good indicator. It may be that when you focus on role, you’re relying more on yourself and leaving less to chance or others.
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Literally, this group relied relatively less on networking (though they did network!), more on reflecting on their own strengths and weaknesses, and took advantage of a wider variety of career resources available.
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An area for further investigation is, do the frequent opportunities for in-service training offer additional benefits to people entering their career through the lens of role? — because training is often more tied to specific job skills (like grant writing, for VISTAs) than issue.
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These initial findings are really tempting me to keep researching (beyond the scope of my class).
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Happy AmeriCorps Week, by the way!
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HIV Positive and Serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer

Contributed by Elizabeth Tunkle, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Zambia and Lesotho.

When you join the Peace Corps, many people ask you why. I never had a very good answer. But the truth is something way down deep inside of me told me that is what I needed to do and I listened. I really had no idea what I was getting into. I thought 2 years would go by in a flash and I would come home better for having gone so far from home and for having done such a noble thing. Two years did not go by in a flash and I came home changed but not how I thought I would.

I started out my service in Zambia and after getting posted to my village, as I was settling in, I met my future boyfriend. When we started dating, I asked him if he had been tested for HIV. He told me yes. He told me his test was negative just 1 year before and he had not had unprotected sex since his last test. We mutually decided it would be safe for us to use birth control and not condoms. We were wrong. Despite the fact that I knew all about HIV prevention I had unprotected sex with him anyway.

A few weeks later, I decided we should get tested. I had a bad feeling. I tried telling myself that it couldn’t be me. I was going to be fine. Too many times in my life I had played with all kinds of fire and survived. Not me. I was too nice and honest and fun and giving and I practiced yoga and meditation. We get bonus points in life for being good, right? No, I guess we don’t. HIV doesn’t just choose mean people or people who tell lies. It turned out it chose me. We found out my boyfriend was positive and that I was also infected. As if that news isn’t devastating enough, the Peace Corps told me I Continue reading

America’s Service Commissions Launches a Wiki to Help State Groups Replicate Effective National Service Models

This week, America’s Service Commissions (ASC)—the independent association of state commissions on voluntary action and service—and ServeMinnesota — the Minnesota commission on volunteering and service — have announced the launch a new resource, the AmeriCorps State Program Replication Wiki.

The Kennedy Serve America Act, signed into law in April, offers the national service community an unprecedented opportunity to expand service at the local level and offer far more citizens a chance to serve in their communities. The Act also poses a huge challenge to national service programs — the opportunity to increase the number and size of individual corps without weakening the impact of service, or diluting support for corps members, host organizations, etc.

State service commissions—appointed by state governors and responsible for the bulk of AmeriCorps funds distribution Continue reading

Career Transitions: October is Nonprofit Career Month

A new campaign highlights professional opportunities in the nonprofit sector.

Whether you are just starting to think about working in the nonprofit sectorncm_needsyou_200w professionally after your term ends, or you are a seasoned nonprofit leader, Nonprofit Career Month is a new, pilot opportunity for you to discover ways to act on your passions through professional opportunities in the nonprofit (or independent, or nongovernmental, or third…) sector.

You can connect with the month of activities — and create your own! — in a variety of ways. Driven by the collective contributions of the nonprofit community, the campaign dispels common myths about nonprofit work, provides individuals with entry points to the sector, and allows current and aspiring nonprofit professionals to share expertise.

The brand new website NonprofitCareerMonth.org features:

Supporting Your Corps Members’s Career Transitions

Next week at NCVS, in addition to blogging & helping staff the Idealist Career Center on the Third Floor Exhibit Hall, I’ll be offering a workshop for service corps program directors and team leaders called “Incorporating Career Transitions Throughout the Term of Service.”

My workshop will take place first thing Wednesday morning as part of the NCVS events at the Moscone Center — and I am looking forward to seeing a room full of wide awake, rearing to go participants. I hope you can join us!

The idea behind the workshop is that preparing corps members for their career transition out of your program benefits both your program and the members themselves. With this workshop, participants can explore the components of an effective career transitions support strategy, and share effective practices with each other and me.

Because I learned how to train people as a Peace Corps Volunteer in China (where I taught English Continue reading

Pride Month Podcast Transcript

Gay Pride 8-colors Flag by Stonewall Veteran<br> Gilbert Baker

Gay Pride 8-colors Flag by Stonewall Veteran Gilbert Baker

Below is the transcript of our June podcast, “Lesbian and Gay Perspectives in AmeriCorps and Peace Corps.” Huge thanks to podcast intern Sara Lozito, an AmeriCorps member, for work in creating the transcript.

Amy: Welcome to the Idealist podcast. I’m Amy Potthast and this is the The New Service Podcast from Idealist.org – moving people from good intentions to action.

June is Pride Month, so The New Service podcast is taking a closer look at the experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals serving in Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. The terms lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender are abbreviated throughout the show as LGBT or GLBT.

Today’s guests are lesbian and gay former service corps participants: Continue reading