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Older volunteers fill community service gaps

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Older volunteers fill community service gaps
Photo: DPA
13:31 CEST+02:00
When Germany scrapped compulsory military service, along with the alternative civilian service in 2011, many feared shortages in the social care sector. But the opposite has been the case, it emerged on Wednesday.

The Federal Volunteering Agency (BFD) which replaced the old system of Zivildienst (civil service) was set up with the purpose of recruiting volunteers to carry out the duties formerly performed predominantly by school-leavers between the ages of 18 and 23.

At present, some 35,000 people have signed up to the scheme and according to figures from the Hertie School of Governance and the Centre for Social Investment at the University of Heidelberg, 40 percent of those are over 27 years old.

And in eastern Germany, the trend is even more pronounced with 76.5 percent of volunteers over 27, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper said on Wednesday.

Quite contrary to expectations of a collapse in the social care sector, the BFD is experiencing a flood of applications.

"The number of applications regularly exceeds positions," Jens Kreuter, head of the jobs tasks force of the Federal Volunteering Agency, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

In regions with high unemployment, there's been an increase of volunteers in the 40-50 year-old age group. And according to Kreuter, volunteers with life experience are a particular asset.

In order to increase the job prospects of volunteers out of work, the agency is planning to introduce monthly seminars, Kreuter told the paper.

But the changeover from the civilian service has not been without its challenges. Older volunteers are more bound by family commitments and - unlike fresh high school graduates - they can't travel at short notice to attend week-long seminars as was common formerly. They are also less keen to attend the so-called universal education classes offered under the old system. There are plans to adjust the curriculum of the programme accordingly.

So great is the demand from older volunteers that some places are purposely keeping positions vacant until the summer so that school-leavers who wish to complete the civilian service year voluntarily, are not overlooked.

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