From “just helping” to “just hired” – Volunteer your way to a job offer

Brave new world

It’s no secret that today’s employment climate is challenging. Higher unemployment rates caused by slower economic growth and the expectation of higher academic credentials have made job searching difficult, especially for young people (ages 15 -24). A Statistics Canada report reveals that the disparity between youth and adult unemployment is now wider than it’s been in 35 years1. In fact, the unemployment rate for young people in 2012 was 2.4 times the adult unemployment range—marking the biggest gap since 1977. The numbers indicate that last year, the youth unemployment rate in Canada was 14.3%, compared with 6.0% for both workers between the ages of 25 and 54 and those 55 and older, Statistics Canada says.2

One reason for the decline in youth employment rates is a sluggish economic recovery from the financial crisis of 2008, which has impacted new job creation activities for many Canadian companies. While the size of the labour market has remained relatively consistent since 2008, the number of jobs has not, and the group most impacted are young people.

Another possible reason for higher youth unemployment rates is that according to another Statistics Canada study, young people between the ages of 15 – 24 are twice as likely as adults to be laid off from their current job.2

Getting your foot-in-the-door

So how do you, as a young person, navigate your way through this brave new world? Getting a paid job in your chosen field and building a long-term career can still be your ultimate goal. However, the traditional route of going to a few interviews and landing the “right” job may be more of an effort in frustration and rejection letters than anything else. Degrees and interview skills aside, one of the most valuable assets you can offer to any potential employer is experience. Unfortunately, in most cases, this is the one asset that young people have the least of.

Volunteering and internships (both unpaid, and in some lucky cases, paid) are one way that you can get your foot-in-the-door and gain real-world experience that will appeal to employers. Volunteering can give you exposure to real, on-the-job skills in your field of choice. It can also be a natural way for you to network with people who are more senior to you career-wise, and possibly in positions of influence to make hiring choices if and when a suitable opportunity does emerge. It is no secret that employers prefer hiring someone they know, and better yet, someone that also knows their business and has adapted to their unique organizational culture and processes. Hiring someone completely new to an organization often takes more time, more resources and more risk than converting a volunteer or intern into a full-time staff member, and that’s where young volunteers have an advantage.

Volunteering and internships

Sometimes, an internship or co-op experience is part of your academic program, and becomes both a requirement for graduating as well as a great way to get real-world experience. However, if there isn’t an internship option, or the internship experience still doesn’t turn into a full-time job, here are a few ways to get the ball rolling in the area of volunteering. So get out there and eventually you’ll go from saying, “I’m just helping” to “I’m just hired”!

LinkedIn: If you haven’t done so already, create a professional profile on this job searching and networking website to connect with potential employers for jobs and volunteer opportunities and career information in general.

Volunteer Canada: Volunteer Canada is the national voice for volunteerism in Canada since 1977.

Government youth internship site: A Canadian government sponsored guide to finding an internship opportunity in your area.


1 Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey May 2013

2 Statistic Canada, Study: Unemployment Dynamics among Canada’s youth, 1977 10 2102