By definition, volunteering consists in freely joining a group of people for selfless and altruistic purposes to work in charity, but lately, it has become a great option for many young people who have not yet entered the labour market. Even though its role is ambiguous, as there is a risk that it will slow down the creation of gainful employment, it can also be a very important factor in motivating young people on their journey toward employment.
Many studies demonstrate that volunteering experiences generate knowledge, skills and competencies that often go unnoticed. For example, J. Wilson says in the ‘Annual Review of Sociology’ that “60% of the people participating in volunteering programmes will improve their employment strategies, which will enable them to be better informed, acquire work habits, responsibilities, manage their time…”. In turn, Dávila A. and M.T. Mora highlighted in ‘Civic Engagement and High School Academic Progress: Analysis Using NELS Data’ that “many people who are self-employed today or who have opened small businesses say that their experiences of volunteering helped them in this process”. Finally, one of the conclusions of the report titled ‘Serving Country and Community: A Longitudinal Study of Service in AmeriCorps’ is that “students who, during their obligatory and higher education, participated in service learning programmes, achieved better academic results than those who did not”.
Therefore, volunteering turns out to be one of the best options because it offers many advantages. These include facilitating contacts with other professionals in your field of interest, developing skills such as teamwork and improving problem-solving, avoiding their reappearance in the future. Volunteers also gain leadership skills to guide a team or project, and they enhance their communication skills, which means they can express the knowledge they have more clearly and put it into practice.
In addition, volunteering increases the opportunity of gaining first-hand experience, and it is an excellent way to develop new skills, improve current skills, and implement everything you learn.
However, volunteering not only contributes added value to organisations and institutions and to the volunteers themselves, but it has also become a way to generate new professions and activities, a way of directing young people towards new markets and, thus, contributing to the growth of the economy.
For these and many more reasons, volunteers are very highly valued in enterprises, and many of them even organise Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects that promote this formula as the beginning to a professional career. Many companies choose to develop programmes or initiatives that promote volunteering, and a good example of this is LinkedIn, the largest on-line network for professionals, which has made the “Volunteer Experience & Causes” field available to its users so that members may activate it in their profiles to include their volunteer work experience.
“Our experience as Scout monitors has helped us to work as child educators”
Mikel Amorena (21) and Isabel López (20) are two students training to become teachers in Infant and Primary Education that, thanks to their experience in volunteering, have found a niche in the labour market. Their first experience was in a small Scout group in their town. They became activities instructors and embarked on their careers as early childhood educators. Their stories are an example for many young people who are also looking for a job and lack the professional experience.
How did volunteering help you enter the labour market?
M. Amorena: Being a Scout instructor, in my case, has helped me very much with my job because, from the beginning, I placed myself in a position where I had to deal with young children. As an instructor, I have had to do activities with them and learn how to solve problems that arose, always trying to find a useful solution that could also be an example for them. It was a learning stage for me, while the children were having fun, and I found that very useful in my classes. I learned how to keep their attention without having to get serious, by simply enjoying the classes with the children.
I. López: My experience is very similar. During our studies, we were all learning lots of theoretical content that helped us to perform our respective professions, but when it came to going into action, we lacked the necessary experience. Therefore, having been a Scout instructor helped me acquire some skills that I could include in my teaching method when I was hired as a teacher.
Before starting out in your careers, did you mention volunteering in your résumés?
I. López: The truth is that I did. At first, I wasn’t really sure whether I could include it in the “professional experience” section, but I soon realised that my work in the Scout group was very similar to that which I was going to do in my future career as a teacher. In fact, when I handed in my CV, they soon saw that information, and it was a point in my favour.
M. Amorena: I also put it in my résumé. In my opinion, any volunteer work you do is good from a personal and a professional point of view, as it provides you with experience that can be applied at the work place: camaraderie, teamwork, perseverance, solidarity…, and the chances are that volunteer work will have something to do with your future job; and that helps a lot when you do it properly.
Would you recommend volunteering to young people who don’t know where to get experience?
M. Amorena: It is certainly a good starting point. In addition, even if you do it for nothing, it is very rewarding. You learn some skills that you would not otherwise have obtained, and that is essential when starting out on your professional career.
I. López: I agree. Volunteering is a good opportunity to get first-hand experience of tasks you will be doing in the future. And companies are clearly looking for that distinguishing factor when they hire people.
“Volunteering is a perfect opportunity to prepare for the future”
Leyre Vilella (23) has lived a similar situation. One year ago, she travelled to a medical camp in Peru while studying for a degree in medicine. During her stay there, she took shifts doing emergency treatments and visiting patients, caring for all those people who could not afford a private clinic. Leyre put her knowledge to the test and gained additional experience that helped her prepare for her future as a doctor.
What work did you do during your time in Peru?
L. Vilella: As a medical student, I had to put all my skills to the test. From day one, I had to work attending emergency cases and caring for all the people who needed our help. In addition, the health service in Peru is not as advanced as in our country, and it was important to develop alternatives to the required treatments using much less material than we would have had in a well-stocked hospital.
How did that volunteer work affect your professional life?
L. Vilella: From my point of view, the health care issue in Spain is very well designed, i.e. hundreds of very well-prepared young people graduate each year who, like me, have had to go through all the training courses that the university proposed. The only thing that sets us apart from each other is the experience we have acquired on our own. The problem is that unless you are a resident doctor or an intern, it is impossible to acquire experience unless you do volunteer work. And that is what I did. Thanks to my trip to Peru, I obtained a first-hand experience of my profession, and I went through situations that provided me with personal and professional experience. That is why I think volunteering is a perfect opportunity to prepare for the future.
Would you recommend it?
L. Vilella: Without a doubt. Thanks to my trip, I learned many things that you would probably not learn by only studying. It is a way of using all the knowledge you have and checking and broadening your professional experience. In addition, the good news is that it is not difficult to do; there are websites that offer hundreds of volunteering jobs a year, and that can enhance your résumé as a professional.
Do you include your volunteering activities in your résumé?
L. Vilella: Yes, I’ve always thought it was a nice way to help people and improve my professional career. I’ve added it so that, in the future, people can know that I have gone through this experience, and demonstrate that I can cope, and this can happen to other people who want to gain experience and are not sure what to do.