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Everyone has a skill to share, even if they don't shout about it... why not volunteer?

A growing number of employers consider volunteer work equally as valuable as paid work experience.

Nina Arwitz

ONE OF THE first things that struck me about the Irish when I moved here six months ago is how self-deprecating Irish people can be. Having travelled a lot throughout my career, I can say that the Irish sense of humour is certainly unique.

That wonderful, self-deprecating nature can sometimes extend beyond humour though – to an unwillingness to shout about successes and what you do better than anyone else. One thing the Irish do very well, better than most countries in the world, is volunteering.

Volunteering is part of Irish culture. Right now, across the country, thousands of people are volunteering in their community. Some may not even think of it as volunteering – as to many, it’s a part of life. It’s hard to imagine what Ireland would be like withkout volunteering.

It’s estimated that between 25% and 40% of Irish people volunteer regularly. Ireland regularly comes in top percentiles of worldwide surveys on charitable giving and volunteering – recently taking the top spot in the Good Country Index and named the most charitable country in Europe by the World Giving Index for the third year in a row.

Improving employability through skilled volunteering

Volunteering in Ireland is changing. It’s growing and evolving to meet the changing needs of both volunteers and charities. One in four volunteers who sign up through our I-VOL database are under 22 and we are seeing an increased interest among volunteers in improving their employability through skilled volunteering.

Skilled volunteering is essentially lending your expertise to benefit a charity. Skilled volunteering has a huge positive impact for charities and boosts volunteers’ professional experience, improves employability and extends your professional network. In a survey that LinkedIn carried out with professionals, 40% stated that when they are evaluating candidates, they consider volunteer work equally as valuable as paid work experience.

There are some incredible charities and community groups that couldn’t function without the help of skilled volunteers. Coder Dojo has developed into a movement with a network of volunteers teaching computer coding and software development to children across Ireland – expanding to over 48 countries across the world since 2011.

Another great example of skilled volunteering in action is the organisation Data Kind Dublin – an incredible team of volunteer data experts who work with charities to help solve problems through data analysis. We are currently working with Data Kind Dublin to help us better understand and meet the needs of both volunteers and charities.

What kind of skills do you need?

What you may have thought of as the more ‘traditional’ volunteering still happens, of course, on a large scale – whether it’s bucket shaking, garden painting or youth development, skilled volunteering is by no means replacing these vital ways of helping out. But volunteering is broadening – and I think everyone has something to offer.

When we say ‘skilled volunteering’ – it doesn’t mean you have to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer to volunteer (though there are great organisations that involve volunteers from all three professions). The professional skills currently most in demand by charities in Ireland are IT skills, customer service and event management. The ‘soft’ skill most sought by Irish charities is people skills.

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For community and voluntary organisations, skilled volunteering can have an incredible impact. To take Volunteer Ireland for example, we recently recruited for a volunteer to help with an element of our digital marketing. Marcel, a recent graduate from Dublin, came on board to help us with our Google Adwords account. Volunteering from home, Marcel helped to boost our web traffic within a few short weeks. After a month of volunteering with us, he was snapped up with a job offer from abroad. Marcel enjoyed the experience so much that he has remained volunteering with us remotely.

For those who may be interested in learning or developing new skills, volunteering can be just as valuable. In fact, I’d argue that for anyone considering a career change, volunteering can often be more effective than the more expensive option of up skilling through courses. It’s often said that most of our learning in life is ‘tacit learning’ – learning through doing. Volunteering provides you with an opportunity to try and experience new skills and activities – to learn through your own initiative, and it costs nothing but time.

One in five people in Ireland would like to volunteer but don’t know how or where to get involved. That’s where we come in. This week is National Volunteering Week, supported by Salesforce, and we at Volunteer Ireland are here to help make it easier for people to get involved. Ireland is great at volunteering – and this week, let’s shout about it and encourage everyone to give it a try.

It’s our vision to help everyone in Ireland to volunteer and connect with their community. I honestly believe that when it comes to volunteering, everyone has a skill to share. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. You may not want to shout about it, but if you feel you have something to give – you also have so much to gain from volunteering. So whether you have skills to share or some time to spare, visit www.volunteer.ie to see how could make a big difference for a cause or community you’d like to help.

Nina Arwitz is CEO of Volunteer Ireland. This week, May 11-17, is National Volunteering Week, supported by Salesforce. To browse volunteering opportunities near you or find your local Volunteer Centre or Volunteer Information Service visit www.volunteer.ie

About the author:

Nina Arwitz

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