Denise Donnelly, who recently returned from a placement with Restless Development in Sierra Leone gives her view on Generation Volunteer!
How can I be useful, of what service can I be? There is something inside me, what can it be? – Unknown
In the Beginning…
When I was at school volunteering was seen as beneficial but not necessary to get a job, of course it helped you stand out when applying for University and was usually the only thing that would fill the ‘Experience’ section of a 16 year old’s part time job application.
This changed in 2007 when the greatest economic depression of our generation came bursting through our door, all guns blazing. The “Jobs” pages in my local newspaper were reduced to half a page and the job center became a regular meeting place for greater numbers of the desperate and despairing. To get a job you had to know someone who knew someone and even then you were lucky to get one.
Not Lost but Found
I was born in 1990, a year I have always liked, mainly because I can easily calculate my age by the ascending numbers. Unfortunately, I was born into the so-called “Lost Generation”, a generation of highly educated and work ready young people with no where to go and nothing to do. However, I would like to give my generation a much more positive name, one that encapsulates the strength and determination of the thousands of young people now working through the mistakes of others; “Generation Volunteer”.
Keep Calm and Volunteer!
I have volunteered for most of my life and it started in a riding school in rural Northern Ireland. I gained skills there that no other 12 year old I knew had. I was given responsibility over the care of animals and made to work in a team, eventually I was given responsibility for taking payments, bookings and organising other volunteers, all before the age of 16. I am now 23 (just in case you can’t count up from 1990) and up until a few years ago I still used my position at that riding school as relevant experience on my CV. Volunteering has a special kind of transfer-ability that paid positions cannot always give you.
What can Volunteering do for you?
My current paid position is as a part-time sales adviser, it tells future employers that I have good communication skills, I have sales experience, I can achieve targets and have experience working within a team. Which is what every other candidate will have on their CV in one form or another. That is not to say that a paid position is not a good thing, rather it is the sad fact that there are so many highly qualified unemployed people applying for that job that your job experience can lose the value it once had.
Volunteering sets you a part from other candidates not only because of the skills it can provide you, but also because it says a lot about you as a person. For 2 years I volunteered with a mental health charity in my local area, I helped fundraise, organise events, plan team meetings, speak at public events and even gained some media experience. I have never spent anymore than 9 months in a paid job due to moving country and leaving university. 2 years of voluntary experience shows employers that not only do I have all of the above experience and skills, I also passionately committed myself to 2 years of volunteering which demonstrates a reliability that most of my job history does not reflect.
Volunteering + Experience = Opportunities
Volunteering is not only more relevant, but also needed more now than ever. With hundreds of organisations in the Third Sector loosing funding and/or shutting down, volunteers are needed in every part of the organisation, from cleaners, support workers, and assistants to administrators and press officers. What skills you cannot gain in a paid position, you can find a voluntary one that fills that gap in your CV.
If I am honest, volunteering is not for everyone, some people will never need to volunteer, but for those of you who do I would share a few pieces of advice; firstly make and maintain connections with any person or organisation you have ever volunteered with. Secondly, leap before you look, there are opportunities waiting for you that will disappear if you sit on the fence and lastly, there is always something to be gained from every unpaid experience you have had, even it was bag packing for a few hours, use it to your advantage and don’t be afraid to tell people about it.
You can find out more about Denise’s travels on her blog at https://deniseinsierraleone.blogspot.co.uk/.
This blog is brought to you by the I Am Group. We work with charities to provide networking and learning events and help charities and not-for-profit organisations recruit the best staff. You can find out more about us at www.iamenterprises.co.uk and to join our monthly networking events visit www.monthlycharitynetworking.eventbrite.co.uk.