Gaining skills for employmentPhoto by Saad Chaudry on Unsplash.com

I will talk about two things that people often do to gain skills for employment: temping and volunteering. One may also volunteer to give back to the community and do something worthwhile, which I have done and found rewarding. A person may also volunteer because they have a condition that makes holding down a permanent job tricky, and they wish to do something fulfilling with their time and have a space to socialize; however, for this piece, I am focusing on the volunteering that I choose to do in an attempt to progress career-wise.

Volunteering can be valuable; my mother volunteered for a few months full time because she wanted to change her career. She volunteered for about two months full time; this experience allowed her to transition into school nursing.

I believe that volunteering full time is helpful for some people to enable them to enter roles at the start of their careers or allow them to make a career transition. However, I think that volunteering full time is problematic; when I’ve volunteered, I always felt that my contribution wasn’t as important as that of paid the staff and that I wasn’t offered the guidance that I needed to progress.

I think that, in general, you are seen as having less value if you work for free. I also see volunteering as a way that certain establishments use people’s desire to get a foothold in the employment market to exploit people for free labour. I also agree with many others who have argued that it devalues the role of those in the profession (why would someone pay someone if they can get an OK job done for free-this is especially true in poorly funded sectors and/or where the competition is high).

People also volunteer because they have been told that employers value volunteering on a CV; I think it can improve a sparse CV, and it can show that an individual is community-minded. People can come across more positively if they volunteer; however, it could potentially make employers think of you negatively. I asked a person who worked with recruiters and in helping people to gain employment, and he said, ‘if you’ve volunteered a lot, employers will ask where this individual’s money has been coming from.’ This implies that employers will potentially judge an individual for not standing on their own two feet. I suppose that means that if one has deemed to have volunteered too much, the CV could be changed by playing down the volunteering and promoting paid work. All these points have personally put me off volunteering full-time ever again. I feel that it would make a lot more sense for there to be more part-time volunteering roles available so that individuals can get experience in the sector for maybe two days a week and then temp at the same time. Part-time volunteering alongside temping would allow the volunteer to be more financially independent while gaining experience that will enable them to move into the field for which they have a genuine passion.

As well as potentially causing employers to devalue you, I feel that volunteering full time makes you devalue yourself and I also think that it might potentially devalue you in the eyes of some employers especially if done for an extended period.  I’ve sometimes felt like I cannot earn a steady wage, and I think that feeling comes in part from doing periods of full-time volunteering.

I’ve volunteered to help my career more recently, but I only do about a day or two a week. I still volunteer in the community, but everyone is a volunteer, and I don’t feel less than any other team member.

As mentioned previously another way of potentially breaking into the world of work is temping. However, temping should be chosen carefully. I have temped in a range of roles; however, very few of the roles that I temped in had the chance to go permanent. You also need to consider what skills you are gaining from each temp position.

Temping does, however, give you transferable skills, and that has been useful as something to put on my CV. The extra cash is also valuable.

Temping, however, has been problematic as a strategy to earn money, the reason being that if you choose certain areas in terms of temping, the work is sporadic. At one point, I decided to do exam invigilation, which is only needed at a few points during the year. The other work I chose in terms of temping allowed me to obtain work here and there; however, I’d only know about a week or a day in advance if I had the job. It’s incredibly stressful to wait for confirmation, and when you don’t know when money is coming in, it's harder to plan anything.

As well as lack of certainty and money, you potentially end up in a cycle of doing jobs with no chance of progression which I feel I am beginning to escape; however, it has required a lot of effort from me and support and strain on my parents’ part.

So why did I end up volunteering and temping? I ended up doing both of these due to having to compensate for my performance in interviews.

Autism impacts the way that I relate; I get very nervous; go blank and don’t always ask questions, or I say the wrong thing; however, I also think that my muted facial expression, which is part of my condition can be off putting.

I spent time volunteering to have the experience to put on my CV, which would have been sparser due to working in a range of non-permanent positions. Volunteering was also one strategy I attempted to use to progress career wise and obtain stable work.

In terms of the temping, this was something I ended up doing as a way of earning money. It becomes harder to sell yourself to an employer when you have a sketchy work history, and temp work is just easier to get.

The employer is less concerned about your work history as you’re only in for a day or two here and there; if you’re bad they don’t have to ask you back. Interviews for temp positions are thus a lot more informal.

However, after years of gaining different experiences, I am starting to feel that I might make progress. In the next year or two, I hope to make it into part-time work that is stable and feels satisfying. I will also do various projects/contract work on the side to use the skills I began to develop and to explore my interests. If I'd not had the help from my parents, I am not sure I'd be anywhere near escaping the cycle of being stuck in jobs where there is little chance of progression, it makes me wonder about other people's experiences.

Rachel Melinek

May 2022