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Volunteering: the gateway to your new career 

14 Jun 2023 7 min read

In this blog, Kerryn Humphreys at Countryside Jobs Service explains that volunteering is a good starting point for people who are just beginning their career journey.

Three volunteers walking along some water with bin bags of rubbish
Volunteer – it’s something you hear a lot as you start, or try to start, your career and keep meeting that dreaded requirement: must have experience.

But without a job, how do you gain the experience required? Usually, the answer is to volunteer.

There are a few different types of volunteering and many ways volunteering can help; at its most basic it allows you to test if the career you’ve chosen really is the right one for you without committing to a lifelong job that ultimately you find isn’t what you thought it was going to be.

In a recent interview with CJS for International Women’s Day, Beccy Speight, CEO of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), says she used this technique, explaining that she volunteered with the “National Trust when I managed to blag my way into shadowing an Estate Manager (I wanted to test out if it was what I really wanted to do) in exchange for helping him carry out a staff restructure.

Planting a seedling tree

When you sign up to volunteer either full or part time, you experience working alongside professionals and you see behind the scenes, witness how much paperwork is required for a simple requisition, or help to draft the risk assessment for an event, as well as shadowing and playing an increasingly large role in the main job role. This hands-on experience is invaluable.

Hannah Holden, Forestry Assistant at Harewood Estate, says: “A clear link can be seen between the time I spent volunteering and my current job. A number of activities I took part in as a volunteer are exactly the same as the activities I carry out on Harewood Estate in my current role.

By assisting with day-to-day work, you will find out exactly which skills you need for the job, from practical ones to more vague ones, such as learning how to talk to both the board of trustees and the general public enquiring about your activities as you’re out and about. In discussions with colleagues and specialists you’re exposed to industry terminology and, along the way learn the jargon and which acronyms and abbreviations are used most frequently and what they mean! When you come to represent yourself or your role you’ll sound the part and know what you’re talking about.

Depending on the exact volunteering role, you may pick up some certified and accredited qualifications along the way, either by being sent on courses specifically to gain those skills or attending staff training days such as first aid or driving courses. You’ll also have access to more information both from within the organisation (e.g., advance notice of forthcoming vacancies) and from across the industry, as notices and newsletters are circulated, providing an excellent opportunity to increase your specialist knowledge.

The often overlooked benefit of volunteering is meeting people, making connections and building your network. As Conservation Officer Ally Lemon says: “Volunteering is also a great networking opportunity; I have met lots of people through volunteering that I still stay in touch with. This can be very useful as it gives me contacts if I need advice or wanted to work with another organisation, I already know someone who I can get in touch with rather than just emailing the info inbox.”

Ally Lemon hosting a Froglife stand © Carolyn Lemon

Ally Lemon hosting a Froglife stand © Carolyn Lemon
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This is a guest blog written by Kerryn Humphreys at Countryside Jobs Service, for the Green Careers Hub.

Image credits: Shutterstock and Carolyn Lemon.

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