A Secret Weapon in Job Hunting

I spent 6 hours today in a training session on finance for School Governing Bodies (a story for another time). Right at the end of the session someone said the following:

“ … we need to be teaching children to give not take. Apartheid killed giving, our communities were earning so little there was nothing left to give. Kids are used to putting their hands out, and taking.  We’ve forgotten how to give; we have to reintroduce this into our classes. We have to teach our kids to give.”

I’d been thinking about volunteering over the last few weeks. It’s an issue that we’ve discussed at Grow a number of times. 

Volunteering and Youth Unemployment

In South Africa in 2014, there were more than 2.2 million volunteers, contributing more than 600 million hours. This is the equivalent of nearly 300,000 full-time jobs. Most of these volunteers, volunteer directly for family or their community; less than a third volunteer through organisations (http://www.statssa.gov.za/?p=5433).

When we talk about youth unemployment, I just wonder if we aren’t missing one of the effective ways of helping young people get ahead.  Volunteering is a great way for young people to get started in the job market. There are so many unemployed youth who leave school with their matric and hope for the future. What they don’t realise that they are now in the same position as so many other school leavers.  Effective job search is about making yourself stand out amongst all the other candidates. There are many ways to do that, from making your CV stand out, interviewing brilliantly, or saying thank you after an interview. But even if they do all these things, where unemployed youth often fall down is that they have no experience to add to their CV.

Volunteering is a great way to start gaining experience and building up skills while you look for work. Depending where you volunteer you can get experience in working with customers, administration, finance, retail – the opportunities are endless. 

Doggy Day Care and SGBs

One of our younger volunteers started volunteering at a doggy day care (he loves animals) at the beginning of the year, and two months later he was offered a job. He’s now been there for over six months. Not only has he learnt so much more about dogs, but he’s also learnt how act in the workplace, how to interact with customers and other members of the team. He hasn’t always got it right, but he has learnt quickly and adapted his behaviour to his work environment.  He hasn’t decided what career he wants to follow going forward, but what this voluntary position and then job will show on his CV is that he is committed, and stick to something, can learn from others and understands what is required in a work place.

Another young job seeker was elected onto a School Governing Body (SGB). This is a great thing to have on her CV. It shows her involvement in the community, and being in a position of Governor at the school, and now Treasurer, it has helped her develop a range of skills. She is responsible for bank reconciliations, helping with the budget, checking the finance policy and other tasks. She actively contributes to meetings, and plays a key role in the school. As a position holder on the SGB she also gets access to training courses, which will look great on her CV. 

The Challenges of Volunteering

Volunteering isn’t always easy though. When people are desperate for work, and desperate to earn something for their family, then the thought of spending time doing something for free just feels ridiculous. It’s hard when you are desperate and discouraged to see the bigger picture. But volunteering can actually quicken job searches, and get unemployed youth ahead of other candidates.  In these situations, when going to volunteer the candidate can always agree to hours that would leave them time to continue to look for work. Or they may be able to negotiate to use the internet during break times. In the case, of the person who joined the SGB, they even had access to free training. Or in the case of my son, get offered a job. Volunteering can really be worth it.  Another common challenge is transport costs – these can really mount up. We encourage young people to look for opportunities locally, that won’t cost them anything to get there. It might be that the organisation they are volunteering at will be willing to pay travel. Some organisations are actually established to put youth into volunteering opportunities. We work with Action Volunteer Africa and we’ve had some great volunteers. 

The Power of a Reference Letter

We tell all our candidates that once they have been at their volunteering position for a month, to ask the organisation for a reference letter. That letter should be attached to their CV when they make copies. The letter should include the following:

  • it should be written on headed pape
  • it should state the date they started volunteering
  • the volunteering position they are filling
  • their duties
  • the organisation’s experience of the individual to date, in terms of
    • time-keeping
    • following instruction
    • taking initiative
    • getting on with team members
    • their attitude when challenged
    • their strengths
    • areas they can develop
  • it should finish with a statement about whether they would recommend the volunteer to an organisation for a paid position

At Grow, we believe we need to help change the perception of volunteering as an option for unemployed youth. The payoff from adding a volunteering position to a CV can be significant.

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