I have spoken a lot in previous posts about my volunteering position with Trading Standards this summer and I’m here to write yet another to highlight the breadth of opportunities that come with an experience like this.
Trying to secure a volunteering placement (let alone a job) is hard, I won’t lie to you. And it may be tempting to turn up opportunities like Trading Standards in favour of more direct (but more difficult) routes like the police or the courts, but at my interview with Lincolnshire Police a few weeks ago, my experiences so far with Trading Standards made a huge impact on the success of my application. So, I’m soon to start volunteering with the police too, but the wait through vetting etc. means I won’t start until towards the end of summer, and in the mean time I am receiving some otherwise virtually unobtainable opportunities with Trading Standards.
In the exciting and terrifying world of the criminal justice system, the phrase ‘It’s about who you know’ comes about far too often, but in no way does this mean your opportunities are stunted if you don’t come from a family of police officers, for example. My Year 10 work experience gave me the idea to get back in touch with Trading Standards, and since starting volunteering all I’ve had to do is be friendly and open about my interests when meeting new colleagues. And it’s purely because of this that new opportunities, and new contacts, were suggested to me.
After expressing my interest in the police on a lift home from work one day, a colleague offered to put me in touch with an ex-police analyst currently working at Trading Standards, so after a few e-mails, I met with him yesterday. Never before had I had the opportunity to ask questions and discuss my ideas about the police with someone who could give me true insight on a one-to-one basis. A year or two ago, an opportunity like this might have really intimidated me, but in this new world I’ve entered and am learning more about, I’m starting to feel much more like I can finally be a part of it rather than an observer through media and lectures (as engaging as Leicester’s lectures are of course!!).
The ex-analyst I met with told me all the standard (but still endlessly interesting, in the words of someone from the police) things like his route into the job, the actual ins and outs of a police analyst’s duties and work life, and other career paths both in the police and criminal justice generally, which I was able to ask questions about in terms of specialism like CID and wildlife crimes. Really helpfully, he told me about changes in the police like the potential for investigative CID jobs to become civilianised, but that retired police officers often apply for this so candidates need to have the edge (for example, being a police analyst having worked with computers!). But what was most interesting to me were the things he told me about police culture, the differences from force to force, and the comparison between police working culture and local government working culture. Nowhere else would I have received such a valuable insight so easily.
As I’ve made new contacts, I’ve found a domino effect of opportunities. Having discussed my personal interest in CID and animal welfare, the ex-analyst I met suggested that my links through Trading Standards would enable me to set up some shadowing work easily if I ask him or another member of staff seconded from the police. Last week, I visited a police station with some PCSOs as part of my Trading Standards work and this alone was valuable just to establish what a police environment is like. Another Trading Standards colleague offered to set up another meeting for me with a police officer from this police station.
Getting your foot in the door somewhere will make an unbelievable difference. Something the ex-analyst said to me was “You’ll be pushing on open doors” and this is such a perfect quote to explain the effects of making contacts through experience. In addition to the value of the work you experience, the relationships you build could be life-changing.
I have to thank the University of Leicester for this, because without the encouragement of the Criminal Justice Fast Track, this may have never happened.