I work as an employment counsellor for immigrants at ISSofBC’s Skills Connect program…but I am also an immigrant to Canada and a fan of volunteering.
When I arrived in Vancouver nine years ago, an employment counsellor told me I should volunteer…I looked at her and thought: “I don’t have a job, I don’t know anybody, I don’t drive, I have two small children and you are asking me to volunteer my time?” I left the job search workshop confused and a bit frustrated: few people volunteered in my country of origin, and I just wanted a job to pay the bills and keep us safe!
However, I decided to give it a try and my first volunteering experience lasted four months as a data entry and settlement assistant in Spanish for a local non-profit organization. That experience changed the way I saw Canada’s workplace and culture, helped me learn how social services worked, and provided me with local references for my first job in Canada.
Since then, I have continued volunteering at many local non-profit organizations. These experiences have given me excellent training (which I couldn’t have otherwise paid for), a different way of seeing life, great friends, opportunities to improve my English, and a valuable source of referrals to jobs. In fact, I got my job at ISSofBC after serving as Host Volunteer for newcomers to Canada.
Volunteering can definitely help newcomers to get a job, but in order for it to work, it has to be strategic volunteering.
Strategic volunteering is carefully chosen: volunteer in non-profit organizations and select opportunities that relate to your pre-landing skills or the job you are planning to find. When selecting your opportunity, make sure you are clear about the organization’s expectations (how many hours a week? how many days? for how many months?) and benefits (good volunteering opportunities usually offer orientation sessions, training and references; some also offer insurance, bus tickets or snacks, access to internal job postings and certificates of recognition). Each organization has its own volunteering policy and the process to be accepted is similar to getting a job, so it can even work as a practice for your job search.
The success in volunteering can be summarized as follows: you get what you put in. So if you want your volunteer work to lead to a job or provide great references, be punctual and reliable, be professional and assertive, share your knowledge, and give more than expected and never leave without providing enough notice and thanking the host organization
Volunteering has deep roots in Canadian culture and if done appropriately, can count as Canadian work experience. Volunteering can be anywhere from a few hours a week to the equivalent of a full-time job but the rewards are many.
So, what are you waiting for?
About the Author: Argentinean born Silvia Di Blasio works as Employment Counselor for the Skills Connect program for immigrants at ISSofBC. Silvia specializes in eLearning, Credential Evaluation and Social Media. In her spare time, Silvia volunteers for many community boards and organizations.Please click here for information on ISSofBC’s career services.