Gain valuable skills by volunteering

Many people take up volunteer work because they want to help others, but the volunteer gains a lot, as well, says Finnish Red Cross volunteer Pia Aaltonen. “Volunteering is not simply helping others; it works the other way around, too.”

Pia Aaltonen
Pia Aaltonen

Aaltonen has participated in the Red Cross’s multicultural programmes. She has held training sessions for volunteers participating in friendship programmes aimed at immigrants. She has also participated in organizing a weekly cafe for people interested in different cultures.

“A lot of people get into volunteering out of a wish to help others, but they end up making so many good friends in the process, that those friendships become the reason for continuing volunteering,” adds Heini Lumio, another Red Cross volunteer.

Heini Lumio
Heini Lumio

Lumio, who studied youth work and languages at university, has worked as a volunteer trainer, which has entailed training volunteers who help immigrant children with their homework, for instance. She has also taken part in organizing summer camps. “Volunteer work is available on flexible basis - you can do as much or as little as you like,” she explains.

Responsibility brings confidence

Aaltonen ended up as a Red Cross volunteer by chance. She was studying social policy at university, and was interested in immigration and multiculturalism. After she completed her master’s thesis, she had the time for volunteering.

“I wanted a meaningful hobby, and I had wanted to do volunteering related to multiculturalism for a long time. I contacted the Red Cross first, and they had work for me right away,” she says.

Lumio had worked as an intern at the Red Cross, and ended up staying as a volunteer.

One of the best parts of being a volunteer according to Lumio is that you feel that you are doing something useful and necessary. At the same time, you learn a lot.

“The Red Cross trains its volunteers well. When you work as a trainer yourself, you gain experience in making presentations and you learn to work flexibly in different situations. These skills are useful in any job,” says Lumio.

Aaltonen, too, feels that she has learned a lot from volunteer work. “When you get the opportunity to take responsibility for new tasks, and see that you can do them well, it builds your confidence.”

When you work with immigrants, you learn to communicate with people even if you do not speak the same language, she adds. “You also learn how to use your own native language more clearly.”

Valuable experience

Volunteer experience is valuable when looking for paid employment, say both Lumio and Aaltonen. Lumio thinks that it is especially valuable for a young job seeker, who does not have much experience yet. Volunteer experience shows the job applicant is active and shows that he or she has been able to take responsibility.

Aaltonen works at the Multicultural Association of Satakunta as a coordinator for a project promoting employment for immigrants. “My volunteer experience was definitely a big plus when I was looking for work. Experience as a trainer is especially valued in the job market”, she says.

She notes that NGOs in particular often ask about volunteering experience in job interviews, because NGO work often involves coordinating volunteers.

Aaltonen and Lumio encourage anyone interested in volunteering to get in touch with an NGO whose work they are interested in. You do not need to worry about committing to an organization. “This is, after all, voluntary. It is all based on what you are interested in and how much work you want to do,” Lumio says.

There are many different ways to volunteer - and you will almost definitely find something to do that is suited to your interests, says Aaltonen. It is possible to volunteer once or twice, or commit to doing volunteer work on a regular basis for a longer period of time.

In addition to training other volunteers, Lumio is participating in organizing a big summer camp in 2015 for the Red Cross. “I am sure I will learn a lot from the other volunteers.”

At the moment, Aaltonen does not have time for volunteer work, but plans to do it in the future. “I would like to do volunteer work in the field of immigration and multiculturalism. I would especially like to work as a support person for a refugee,” Aaltonen says.

Text: Juha Rudanko

Photographs: Samuli Siirala

Show what you can do with Europass

Europass is designed to help you to convey your skills e.g. to an employer. With Europass you can showcase even skills that you have learned outside the formal education system: through work or volunteering.

Use the Europass Skills Passport to compile a portfolio of your skills and competences.

Heini LumioDoing volunteer work is a great way of honing skills that are valued in the job market.

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