Have you had your hopes of getting a job straight away dashed? Have you applied to study or sent in numerous job applications and nothing has worked out? What is the alternative to sitting at home doing nothing all year? What about looking for an internship or volunteering for an organisation?

Volunteering can often be the starting point for other opportunities such as becoming an intern. Organisations get an opportunity to see how you work and present yourself whilst volunteering and, if you have done this well, they may decide to take you on as an intern. What is the difference between the two, though?

Volunteering is seen as an altruistic activity where an individual provides services for no financial reward in order to benefit others. In some cases, people do work for free but in others, especially when it involves youth, you may be paid an allowance which covers your expenses and will give you some money in your pocket. Why do it then if you don’t earn much money? Of course, everyone wants to make money – lots of it – so it seems counter-intuitive to become a volunteer.
But here are some of the benefits of volunteering:

Learning new skills

While you are volunteering, you will learn new skills about the work that you are doing. Obviously, the more skills you have, the more you have to add to your CV which enhances your opportunities in getting a job! And you get this ‘skills-development’ for free. You don’t need to pay a college or university to learn how to do things and you might well earn an allowance at the same time.

I’ve been involved in running volunteer projects and it has been wonderful to see young people learning whilst giving back to others. Not only have they helped others in their community but they have made themselves as employable as university graduates.

Employers are looking to hire staff who know how to do certain things well, who are punctual and who understand the working world. All of this can easily be learnt whilst volunteering.

Developing confidence

Volunteering can help you gain confidence by giving you the chance to try something new and feel a real sense of achievement. It’s so empowering to see that you are able to do things that you didn’t think you could do – perhaps speaking to a large group of people or reading to a group of small children – and this develops your self-esteem. I really have seen very quiet young people come out of their shell and be incredibly surprised about their ability to talk in front of a group of people. At first, they avoid speaking at all costs and almost whisper when they do. Often, though, by the end of a year, they find that their confidence has developed to such an extent that it no longer really worries them and they can speak loudly and clearly when it is needed.

Making a difference

Many studies show that when you make a difference in other people’s lives, be it small children, learners, communities or the elderly, you are actually also helping yourself! These studies indicate that the very act of giving back to the community boosts your happiness, health, and sense of well-being. Quite simply, helping others makes us happy. According to a study done by sociologists, teenagers who volunteer have better grades and self-image than others so it’s definitely worth doing.

Meeting people

One of the most important aspects of finding employment is always networking. Meeting people who are already involved in the area of work you are interested in is hugely important in landing a job or internship. Network, network, network!

Meeting other people also helps you make new friends and feel part of a community yourself so all of this is really beneficial.

So if your first thought was that volunteering is a pointless activity, think again! Imagine yourself volunteering in a school, tutoring children or helping at the school’s reception. Or think of yourself volunteering in a catering business, being part of the setting up and cleaning staff, but also learning about the art of cooking. Yes, I know a young man who has done this and he has been taken on as permanent staff and is learning to be a chef. He had never considered doing this before he volunteered and now he realises that this is his passion. He is well on his way to a sustainable and rewarding career.

Internships are, in many ways, similar to volunteering except that the reason behind an internship is less about helping others and more about getting experience in a particular field. It is a period of work experience in a specific company aimed at youth who want to get exposure in an industry and a proverbial foot in the door. Typically, they can last, 3, 6 or 12 months, depending on the industry. Internships are usually paid or unpaid.

However, there has been a strong movement away from unpaid internships in South Africa. The Government has recently set up the Youth Employment Service (YES) initiative which calls on local corporates and enterprises to come together and empower the youth. According to President Cyril Ramaphosa the aim is to provide, “pathways and opportunities for young people to get into the world of work. Participating young people will be placed in corporates. They will also be placed in a number of community hubs that are being created as micro-enterprises in various parts of our country.” Through the YES initiative, businesses will create a 12-month paid position for a youth between the ages of 18 and 35 with a minimum stipend of R3 500.

Another important difference between an intern and a volunteer is that interns are on a fixed-term contract and therefore have the same conditions of service as an employee. This means they are essentially employees of the companies even if it is for a limited duration.
This is why an internship is often the next step from volunteering. You may increase your skills, improve your self-confidence and network whilst you are a volunteer which then leads you to an internship position in which you are actually an employee, if only for the duration of the contract.

So, get onto Google and look for volunteer and intern opportunities. This is definitely a very positive way of making it into the world of work. Don’t waste your time by doing nothing this year. Build your skills and you’ll be on your way!


Tell us: Would you be interested in volunteering or being an intern? Why/Why not?