Volunteering to increase your skills

Volunteering can help you to build valuable skills you can use in job interviews as well as open up new interests.

Do you lack confidence after being out of the workforce for many months or even years? Does the world of work seems a distant memory, are you worried you are not up-to-date with technology, about how to explain the gap in your cv, about what a potential employer thinks of stay-at-home mothers?
A survey by WorkingMums.co.uk shows that lack of confidence is one of the three major hurdles to women getting back to work. Childcare and a perceived lack of flexible working are the other two.

One way of building up confidence is to develop your skills before you send out your cv
and a good way of doing this is through voluntary work which you can tailor round your
childcare responsibilities. This can be anything from being on the parent teachers’
association, being a parent governor or organising coffee mornings for a playgroup to
helping with children’s sports activities or doing the odd bit of paperwork for a local
All of these will help brush up your skills or give you new ones. Being a parent
governor, for instance, gives you a great deal of responsibility and a great insight into
the running of a busy and complex organisation. Organising fundraising events for
playgroups can involve a lot of cajoling and diplomacy, marketing skills, persistence and possibly even accounting skills.
The website cvtips.com advises including details of any voluntary work you may have been involved in while being at home with the children. It states: "You may have helped out at their schools, the local church, participated in fundraising activities etc. All of these things demonstrate a range of abilities that an employer may find attractive."

Learn new skills and meet new people
Careers advisers say taking on paid or voluntary work both makes use of your existing
skills - you may, for instance, volunteer to take a particular role such as marketing an
event because that is your professional background - and also exposes you to new
situations and types of people. In working for voluntary organisations people often find
that they can take on as much or as little responsibility as they want to. It is always
worth mentioning any voluntary experience you have on your cv and explaining the skills you have gained from it.
Katie Slater, founding director of career management company A Brave New World Ltd, advises women thinking of returning to work to think carefully about the skills they have learnt during their career break, including through voluntary work. "Have you, for
instance, been on the parent teachers’ association at your child’s school?" she asks.
"Has this improved skills such as communication and networking? Try to link anything you have achieved to the competency skills required for the post you are going for."

Changing times
What is more, the kind of voluntary roles may be changing because there are fewer women around who have time on their hands to do voluntary work. Judy Esmond, a volunteering expert and author of Count Me In! 501 Ideas on Recruiting Volunteers, says the relative dearth of women able to do voluntary work and the fact that women now have a broader range of work experience than in the past means those who do volunteer "are demanding more challenging and rewarding assignments". She advises voluntary organisations to "explore ways of creating even more stimulating and satisfying tasks" to respond to this.
This, in turn, means the kind of voluntary work on offer might be even more of interest to a potential employer.

Case study: Volunteering with the Girlguidesby Desiree Polluk

I am the mother of eight children aged between 18 and 3 years.  I gave up work with what is now Reuters Television shortly before the birth of my third child and have been a  stay at home mum for the past 15 years.  I first started volunteering as a parent
helper with Girlguiding UK when my eldest daughter became a Brownie.  I enjoyed the experience so much that I decided to take my leadership qualification and have now been leading a pack for about seven years.
People often ask me how I find the time to be a Brownie leader with such a large family.  Well, the housework is always there and my house is not the tidiest of places, but I think all mums need an interest outside of the home to keep them sane and to recharge their batteries!  So why leave eight children to go and work with 16 of them?!  I love working with the Brownie age group (7-10 years) because they are so full of enthusiasm and eagerness to try new things.  I have gained so much from being a guider.  I have made new friends and, through looking for new activities to do with the girls, I have learnt many new skills.  
I enjoy these as hobbies but they could also be turned into a business from home -glass painting, jewellery making, soap making and paper crafts to name a few.  I feel privileged in having a role where I can help my girls develop through fun activities into responsible, confident and caring young women.  One of the greatest rewards for me is to see a very shy and quiet seven-year-old girl being brought out of her shell by giving her responsibilities and encouraging her just to do her best in any new activity.
My role as a volunteer has also given me back a lot of the confidence that I lost from
being at home all the time and feeling that I had forgotten how to hold an adult
conversation.  As units are led by women (men can be unit helpers or help in other
roles), you are working with people who can empathise with your feelings and who support you in your own development. I now have transferable skills to put in a C.V. which are valued by employers including leadership and teamwork skills, basic accounting and budgeting skills from running the unit’s subscriptions, communication and organisational skills. 
I now have a part-time job which involves attending/organising events to raise
the profile of Girlguiding and to recruit adult volunteers so that we can enable more
girls to join and realise their full potential.
There are currently 50,000 girls and young women waiting to join and a shortage of adult volunteers able to lead groups. Volunteering opportunities are very flexible and range from a regular weekly commitment to just 12 hours a year with a whole host of roles that you can play.

To find out more visit www.girlguiding.org.uk
If you live in the London Borough of Ealing please contact:
Desiree Polluk tel: 020 8571 1680    email: [email protected]

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