I fully realized the benefits of volunteering after moving to Canada. As a new immigrant, (although I was well-qualified in Pakistan) I didn’t have Canadian work experience, references or education. Volunteering helped me develop connections, an understanding of the work environment and learn new skills. Most importantly it’s a great way to give back. Even if you’re taking a career break, volunteering helps you stay connected with your field, build a community and keep your skills fresh. Volunteer work experience is equally (if not more) respected in Canada. Non-profits are always looking for help, so reach out to them and offer your support in marketing, communications, accounting or any other skills you have.
When I wanted to develop social media skills 13 years ago, I learnt them on the job by volunteering with a non-profit remotely. You can also volunteer at your child’s school, not just in the classroom but also on the parent council. That’s a great way to support public education, get involved/heard and also learn new skills.
Dec 5 is International Volunteer Day and a day to appreciate and thank volunteers. Have you volunteered in Canada? How did it benefit you?
Benefits of Volunteering in Canada Especially as a New Immigrant:
1. Develop a network:
As a new immigrant we leave behind our networks and that’s where most hiring happens. When you volunteer with an organization you start developing that network slowly again as people see your work. Make sure you choose the organization to work with (more on how later) smartly and it’s aligned with your career plans.
I volunteered with Alberta Diabetes Foundation (approached them myself with some marketing ideas) for two months before I was offered a paid position and my first job in Canada.
2. Acquire Canadian work experience:
In Canada there is a popular saying that you can’t pay volunteers because the work that they do is priceless. This shows the value volunteer work is given in Canada. Approach non-profit organizations (or search online) for volunteer positions that match your skill set such as marketing, communications, accounting, etc. This will help you get Canadian work experience on your resume along with references you can share later in the hiring process.
3. Develop confidence
Moving to another country is one of the most difficult things you will do in your life. When you volunteer you develop confidence in yourself and your abilities again.
4. Understand Canadian work culture
Every country has its own work culture and environment. Having worked in Pakistan, I learnt small nuances of Canadian work culture, language and norms as I volunteered. This really helped me settle and find a place for myself.
5. Learning new skills
I personally love learning new skills through volunteer positions because there is nothing like learning something on the job and a volunteer position offers a low-risk environment for that. I worked as a Social Media Coordinator for a non-profit, the Compassionate Eye Foundation, when I wanted to learn social media skills 13 years ago. It was a remote role so that set the path for me to work flexibly from home.
Another time I challenged myself in a volunteer role was to handle the media for Alberta 55+ winter games in 2013. I had earlier felt nervous dealing with media and this position helped me gain experience, expertise and confidence.
6. Keeping skills fresh during a career break
Volunteering in your field for a few hours every month during a career break is a great way to keeping your skills fresh and remain employable for whenever needed.
7. Giving back
Giving back is one of the biggest benefits of volunteering and a backbone of Canadian society. As new immigrants you gain not just social and economic benefits but also gain the priceless satisfaction of enhancing Canadian community and programs.
How to find volunteer positions:
There is always a need of volunteers: at non-profits, schools, sports teams, local library, etc. There are on-site, hybrid and remote positions available based on your preference. Sit down and list your interests along with which positions help your career goals. Now search online and reach out to people online and in person. Make sure to update your linkedin profile with your volunteer position and add colleagues as contacts.
I really hope that this blog post helps you identify the benefits of volunteering especially as a new immigrant in Canada.
Do share your experiences. Always love hearing from you.