Careers Advice: The benefits of volunteering

homeless Pedro Ribeiro Simoes via Flickr

The built environment industry provides you with plenty of opportunities to make an impact outside of your typical job responsibilities and I encounter many planners who are giving up their time to volunteer for a wide array of reasons. Whilst not everyone is able to dedicate as much time as others to volunteering, it is something I would strongly recommend as there are several benefits.

As a volunteer, your work benefits many and I’ve recently been working with industry charity Land Aid to help organise a 5-a-side tournament in Manchester. In doing so, I spoke with a committee member from Land Aid who told me of the superb work the charity does to tackle youth homelessness and the benefit of seeing the funds raised used to help others. She commented that, “You come away from site tours more enthused about fundraising for LandAid, but even more importantly, it makes you consider what else we can do as ambassadors to support the charity projects outside of fundraising, for example putting our professional skills to different uses.” The reward of engaging in volunteering is the obvious ‘benefit’ but there are also other things which can be gained…

A less obvious benefit of volunteering is the experience it provides you with to broaden your skill-set; notably, when involved with organisations outside of your current employer you can be tasked with organising a myriad of events requiring you to secure venues, speakers, draft a lengthy list of pub quiz questions, etc. In addition, volunteering often affords many the chance to develop as a public speaker - whether this is welcoming event attendees or simply engaging with others to raise awareness/donations, it all helps your development. Crucially, time management skills are enhanced when balancing your volunteering commitments with the workplace, but it is great to see so many organisations encouraging participation and gifting their employees annual leave for their efforts.

Whilst volunteering will benefit the growth of your skillset it will also widen your professional network. Events organised by the likes of Land Aid, Women in Planning, RTPI Young Planners, etc. are often well attended by a variety of professionals. Whilst the events serve a purpose (raising donations or awareness in most cases), they also provide a great atmosphere within which to network and meet like minded professionals. There are no barriers to attending most events now and with employers regularly supporting (and often sponsoring events) I can’t stress enough how worthwhile it is to give one a try and to engage unfamiliar faces in conversation – who knows where it will lead!

There are plenty of ways to volunteer and whilst the obvious option is to work with one of the many charities doing fabulous work across the UK you can also dedicate your time to other organisations working hard to raise awareness and improve conditions. One fantastic example is Women in Planning who are becoming almost commonplace now across the UK’s major cities and their volunteers do superb work delivering engaging, open and fascinating events across the UK. So, if you’ve got the desire to raise awareness, help a worthy cause or to challenge yourself then find a way to volunteer – you won’t regret it!

Jason Moore is principal consultant at recruitment consultancy the Blayze Group

Picture shows a homeless man (image: Pedro Ribeiro Simoes via Flickr)

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