Volunteerism: a tool for career exploration and workforce preparation

Through volunteerism, youth gain marketable work experience and skills while exploring careers and helping the community.

Since the economic downturn in 2008, there have been many experienced workers forced into what would traditionally be considered entry-level employment opportunities. This has diminished opportunities for young people and had a devastating effect on their ability to gain valuable work experience. With Michigan youth unemployment rates at 21.5 percent  (ages 16-19), young people today need to seek alternative ways to gain the self-confidence and employment skills they would normally gain through starter jobs and part-time work. Volunteering is one such alternative, allowing youth to gain important job-related skills and build their resume, while also exploring possible career opportunities.

Developing work-related skills
Through regular volunteering, youth develop soft skills, such as punctuality, teamwork and interpersonal communication, as well as a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility. They are also exposed to diverse situations that challenge them in new ways and help increase self-confidence, improve problem-solving abilities, develop a range of communication skills, and improve their ability to work with other people.

Career exploration
By strategically choosing volunteer opportunities based on their interests, values and skills, young people can use volunteerism as a way to explore potential career pathways. Volunteering can be an excellent way to learn more about a particular industry or career. It creates opportunities to test out different career options, gain practical experience, and acquire skills related to specific types of employment. This targeted exposure to career pathways also creates greater awareness of career expectations, realities and related educational opportunities, while also connecting youth to potential mentors in related fields.

Resume building
While gaining experience and exploring career pathways, youth who engage in volunteer opportunities are also building their resumes and developing connections. Volunteer experiences help young people develop and utilize skills in practical, real world situations. These skills directly transfer to the working world, whether they are general employability skills or skills specific to a particular job. Additionally, the network of connections youth develop through volunteering serve as potential references for future job and career opportunities. Both the experience and networking gained through volunteering help develop youth who are more dynamic and marketable in the working world.

In addition to working toward their career and educational goals through volunteer opportunities, young people who give their time can also feel good about making valuable contributions to society.  Michigan State University Extension encourages youth interested in volunteering to reflect on their own interests and skills and seek out corresponding opportunities. Potential opportunities include connecting with community projects through religious or service organizations, getting involved in local 4-H activities, or targeting specific organizations based on interest. Check out this list of community service organizations for potential volunteering opportunities.

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