Why Volunteer? Boosting Skills

For National Student Volunteer Week (NSVW) 2014, we’ll be publishing a series of posts answering that perennial question – why should I volunteer?

Today, we’re looking at the skills you can gain and develop through volunteering. I’m a big fan of skills-based volunteering – In my experience volunteers often come in two main ‘shapes’: Those who are passionate about a particular cause or sector, and those who have specific skills and want to use them for social good, but may not mind who they help. Obviously there are shades of grey between these two, and some people who are both, but let’s keep things simplistic for this one! I’m going to call the first type Mary, and the second type Cal.

Mates 24 hours logoMary loves helping young people – she benefited from the support of some amazing volunteers during her tough teen years, and wants to give back to the organisations that helped her, as well as using her experience to help others. She has been volunteering for ten years with a range of youth services including Headspace, MATES Mentoring and the Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY), and has taken on a number of different roles within those organisations – filling gaps where they needed extra help. Mary completed a Cert 4 in Youth Work whilst volunteering, and has found that not only have the things she has learnt in her course helped her to volunteer more effectively, but that the practical work she does through volunteering has benefited her learning hugely – placements are great, but there is no substitute for working in the field on a weekly basis. She finds that her experiences actually exceed some of the criteria for the Cert 4, and she is looking at developing her caseworking skills in the future – working with different agencies to meet clients’ overall needs more effectively.

finance1Cal is a finance guy – he worked in a bank in the year before Uni, and is now about to finish a Bachelors in Accounting and Finance. He is passionate about making money work for people, and just as passionate about helping other people to make great financial decisions. During his first year of Uni, Cal started applying for internships and work experience in the corporate financial sector, but repeatedly found himself up against hundreds of other candidates even for data entry positions. Realising that a) He only stood a slim chance of landing a role and b) Even if he did it would most likely be mundane work which didn’t utilise his skills effectively, he headed to the Uni Careers Service, who pointed him in the direction of the Volunteer Program. With their help, Cal found a local disability support organisation who were looking for someone 2 days a week to develop an ICT-based accounting system, to replace the mass of receipts and hand-written records they currently had. Cal found that what he had learnt in his first year enabled him to test, demonstrate and recommend different accounting packages to the board, who gave him the go ahead to train others across the organisation to use it. Not only did his resume look in better shape as a result, but he decided to spend the next summer working with another local organisation who, impressed by what they had heard about him, offered Cal the chance to join them as a volunteer financial adviser, meeting with the board on a weekly basis. When he leaves Uni, not only will Cal have an impressive array of high-level (for his age) experience on the resume, but he has pledged to do Pro Bono work for at least 4 days a month at a Not-For-Profit financial management organisation.

Media Cov SBV How can it work for youCal and Mary are not real people, of course, but they are based on real and realistic experiences of those who choose to volunteer – not only can you find a great volunteer role which uses your ‘day job’ skills and interests, but if you do a bit of research and talk to the right people, you can even find a role which enhances them.

For National Student Volunteer Week, we wanted students to have the chance to ‘upskill’ a little – We have run workshops on personal/social values and leadership and supporting asylum seekers/refugees in the community. We have also persuaded some of our awesome staff to volunteer their time to teach students new skills – knitting and playing the ukulele!

If you have an experience of a time when volunteering has boosted your skills in some way (could be for a job, or even a hobby), We’d love to hear about them.

If you’re a FedUni student looking for a volunteer role which truly uses your skills, or which will develop new ones, get in touch at L.icely@federation.edu.au.

– Luke