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Volunteering for work experience an opportunity to get...

Maverick Citizen

#YOUTHRISING2022

Volunteering an opportunity to learn critical workplace skills and give back at the same time

Teaching Assistant, Cassidy Williams volunteers at Seekoegat VGK Primary School on May 05, 2022 in Seekoegat, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images/Rapport/Edrea du Toit)

Whether fresh out of school, working a part-time job or still studying, signing up to assist a good cause can help young people develop marketable skills, and set themselves apart from other applicants – which can give their CV a much-needed boost. 

As part of Youth Month, we celebrate young people as the future of our workforce. However, with South Africans aged 15 to 24 facing an unemployment rate of over 63%, they are dealing with a classic chicken and egg scenario. Businesses only want to hire people with experience, but youth cannot gain traditional experience until they secure a job. This makes applying for jobs intimidating and, more often than not, unsuccessful. 

That’s where volunteering comes in. 

Volunteering is a great way to learn critical workplace skills and give back at the same time. When a person commits time to a non-profit organisation or social initiative, they get to work alongside industry professionals who can pass on their knowledge and act as mentors. This also provides a chance to expand personal and professional networks, which can potentially lead to full-time employment; those already working in their target field can share job openings and provide references and referrals. 

A volunteer explains Vooma weekend to a member of the public
Volunteers telling people about Vooma weekend at Delft Mall, during the vaccination outreach programmes on October 02, 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images/Misha Jordaan)

Networking opportunities

Generally, volunteer opportunities offer a friendly, low-pressure environment. This allows for genuine, engaging conversations with people who have shared interests — without the difficult professional expectations of formal employment. It’s much easier and more effective to form meaningful and lasting connections in these environments than at networking events or via LinkedIn. 

In many cases, young people are aware of their talents and strengths — be that coding, design, writing or top marks in accounting, but they have yet to find opportunities to demonstrate them. Through volunteering, they will be able to build a portfolio of work, highlight their real-world impact, and show potential employers that they are committed to their role — so much so that they’ll even do it for free. This not only makes them look qualified and conscientious but also sets them apart from other candidates with similar qualifications. 

Beyond boosting their portfolio, volunteering is also the perfect antidote to the hopelessness and helplessness that youth can sometimes come with unemployment. Instead of staying at home and feeling frustrated, they can get out there and make a difference in the lives of others – and feel good about themselves as a result. This can help them stay confident during the job search, which is a critical, although underrated, part of impressing recruiters and securing work.

Volunteers assist with litter collection
Workers and volunteers from Fresh NGO clean up a litter trap that was installed earlier, during Earth Day 2022 Clean Up on April 22, 2022 in Olifantsfontein, South Africa. The event aimed to clean up the flood plain and save the threatened wetland. (Photo: Gallo Images/Alet Pretorius)

Experience a taster

For matriculants and graduates who are just entering the workforce, volunteering is also a chance to try out different roles, before committing to a career path. 

Causes are always in need of different skills and people willing to donate their time. This could include reception work, tutoring, proposal writing, language translation, design work, social media, marketing, fundraising, administration, or data capturing — the possibilities are endless. 

While volunteering isn’t the same as being on staff, it can give inexperienced workers an idea of the way both an organisation and the industry work. 

Self-development

As South Africa’s largest online volunteering platform, forgood allows individuals to find hundreds of skills-based volunteering opportunities online. Causes registered on the site are listed according to location and categories of interest — everyone and anyone can find something they are passionate about. People can also post an offer of a specific skill, which is distributed to causes registered on the site. 

The key to ensuring that volunteering is an effective CV booster is to volunteer with intention — instead of choosing causes at random. Young people need to look for opportunities that present a learning and growing curve, in line with their career interests and passions. They will also be much more of an asset to an organisation if they volunteer for a role that they find engaging and enjoyable.

An image of unemployed volunteers fixing potholes
A general view of unemployed township youths fixing potholes in Finetown to earn a living in Johannesburg, South Africa. According to media reports, the rate of youth unemployment in South Africa for 2022 is 66.5%. (Photo: Gallo Images/Fani Mahuntsi)

Once they’ve racked up the experience and made an impact, they can add volunteering activities to CV and feature them on their LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn reports that 41% of employers consider volunteer work to be as important as paid work. It also makes a more interesting and diverse candidate. 

The feedback we’ve received from the organisations who use our platform is that young people are welcome additions to any cause or project — so long as they approach it with an open mind and a positive attitude. In addition to technical know-how, volunteering can also teach soft skills like patience, communication, and most importantly, empathy. When it comes down to two candidates in a hiring process, the person who demonstrates the most emotional literacy is almost guaranteed to come out on top. There’s no better way to learn this than by helping others. 

For a range of real-time volunteer needs visit www.forgood.co.za DM

Romy Heldsinger has over 20 years of experience in management, particularly in the media and marketing industry, followed by digital business skills in senior positions such as CEO. For the past eight years, she has matched her passion for social impact with her business skills and is currently the CEO of forgood, South Africa’s largest volunteering platform. You can find out more about Forgood Facebook: /forgoodSA, Twitter: @forgoodSA, Instagram: /forgoodhood.

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