Give before you get: Volunteering and the case of the unemployed Millennials

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If you’re young, say 18-24 years old, getting a job is hard. Actually, it’s beyond hard. More like landing a rover on Mars hard.

If you’re a recent secondary or postsecondary graduate, the odds are you’ve already learned this fact for yourself.

According to the most recent statistics, Ontario’s youth unemployment rate has spiked to 17.1%, while the rest of Canada’s youth unemployment rate has come in at about 14.5%. The alarming news is that this doesn’t seem to be due to a lack of jobs. In fact, out of 1,425 students and youth surveyed, only 37% cited a lack of jobs as the perceived reason for their unemployment.

So why are companies not hiring youth? Is it because of everything the media says about Millennials? That you’re all spoiled, entitled, and lazy? No, of course not. But I won’t get into the several, several, several articles that disprove that tired narrative.

Let’s look at the real reasons why youth are not being hired, as told by today’s youth:

When asked, students and youth self-reported that a lack of experience (59%) and connections (26%) are a significant reason why they aren’t being hired.

I decided to look past the usual media reports and sort through a large swath of opinions and research papers on the subject of youth, employment, and what makes youth employable, in order to bring the best tips to the surface.

1. Get involved in causes you care about

The results can be summed up in one word: Volunteering. I’m not talking about unpaid internships, either. I’m talking about finding a charity or nonprofit representing a cause you care about, or that is related to the field you want to work in, and getting involved. You could even find out if professionals in your line of work participate in certain events or causes and get involved alongside them. As long as you’re there to help and contribute, there is nothing wrong with a few pointed questions directed at the right person.

2. Build your skill sets

In the same survey cited above, students and youth self-reported that they are seeking short-term engagements in order to build their skills repertoire - a great idea.

Guess who has single day events and occasional shifts available on a regular basis? The nonprofit sector.

For example, when I was 15 years old, I was trained in how to speak basic sign language in order to chaperone an individual who was deaf to a festival in my hometown. I thought it was awesome that I was given this training for free. I had no idea it would help land me my first job as a support worker for adults with special needs three years later, starting an eight-year career path in social work.

But that’s just one story. What do the experts say?

According to Imagine Canada, 55% of youth reported that volunteering had made them better at their current job, and 49% stated that they gained skills they could directly apply to their work.

3. Find a mentor

Even though a lot of people do not realize how crucial volunteering is for career development (only 23% of volunteers reported they donated time to better their own job prospects), according to Isa Adney, you should seek advice from professionals in the fields you’re interested in.

How can you get advice from busy professionals? Often, the most successful professionals make time to volunteer for causes they care about. In fact, volunteering has been listed as one of the 16 habits adopted by successful people. What a great way to meet them...

...which brings me to the next reason why youth absolutely must volunteer in order to better their job prospects.

4. Networking

If you’re between the ages of 18-29, you have heard the word 'networking' so many times in the past five years it may make you a little bit ill by now. But it’s true, you need to start networking as soon as possible. Instead of just telling you to network, I offer some advice on how to network.

Spoiler alert: It’s through volunteering.

Casually talking to co-volunteers about ‘this, that, and the other thing’ is without a doubt the best way to endear yourself to someone. So much of landing a job involves showing who you are as a person, and that is a significantly difficult thing to do within the confines of a 45 minute interview. What if you had the chance to show what a capable and thoughtful person you were to your community on a regular basis? Volunteering is one of the best ways you have available to do this.

5. Add content to your resume

Other candidates you are competing with may have similar skill sets and education as you. Want to set yourself apart? Speak about the compelling stories behind your list of accomplishments and skills you’ve put on your resume. Stories are a fundamental part of humanity - use them to your advantage.

Maybe you learned how to work in Adobe Photoshop while helping to promote the event you volunteered for, or perhaps you became proficient in sales by selling tickets for a nonprofit concert raising money for abandoned kittens. Don’t just say you understand interpersonal communication in relation to sales, tell them about the kittens’ tiny button noses and how you used that adorable imagery to sell more tickets than any other volunteer!

Why not turn your resume into a cue card for all of your unique experiences that set you apart - and above - the other candidates? Instead of letting your resume speak for you, let it prove how capable you are in real life situations. All employers are looking for people with experience, but how can you get experience for your resume without first having a job? Using your volunteer experience is a great way to circumvent this conundrum.

Of course there are countless other reasons to volunteer than just for career development. From altruistic reasons to health reasons, volunteering is a wonderful activity that everyone, especially job seekers, should consider.

Chris Martin is a former social support worker who now works as Marketing Coordinator for Charity Republic, a company specializing in promoting volunteerism and community engagement via accessible and efficient technology solutions.

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