Being a student or graduate is arguably tougher than it has ever been before. With a rising number of people opting to study for a degree after finishing college, more students and graduates are competing for entry level jobs. This, coupled with escalating university prices, means that both will certainly have it tough for the considerable future.
However, it is important not to despair; there are still plenty of things that students and recent graduates can do to strengthen their CV, and to broaden their horizons. Perhaps the most valuable is the undertaking of volunteering or intern work within the sector associated to the degree. Not only does this provide the practical, hands-on experience that future employers so desire, but it also offers the chance to make valuable connections within the sector. In an age where many jobs are filled through referrals, it is essential that students and graduates make themselves known by understanding the importance of networking.
For those looking for a role in the environmental sector, health/childcare sector or teaching sector, workplace experience is of particularly high value. Whilst a university degree is valued, it is only a tick in a box. It is the practical experience that offers prospective employers the indication of whether the applicant is suited for the job. So if you decide to join a TEFL Teaching programme, you don’t show them your list of qualifications - you just start teaching to demonstrate your ability.
We, at WorkingAbroad, feel that combining a gap year with supporting a local programme, learning a skill, and at the same time enhancing your own personal development and experience is the best outcome for all: the volunteer and the organisation in the field.
The small grassroots organisations we work with require student volunteer assistance to carry out their programmes and without the volunteer’s financial contribution there wouldn't be anyone patrolling the beaches, researching the coral reefs, teaching in schools or planting trees. Our partners in the field are not operating their programmes for profits: the money that is leftover goes back into the organisation to increase the numbers of protected sea turtles, build more trails and schools, and have more eyes and ears for cutting edge environmental research.
By volunteering abroad, students and graduates also open up a whole new world of opportunity within their sector that they may otherwise not have known to exist. Environmental conservation, for instance, is required in all countries across the globe, though the specifics vary between countries and continents. A conservation student studying in the UK, who chooses to volunteer with sea turtles for a month in Grenada, may end up opting to continue down that line of work - a line of work they may have never otherwise experienced.
The world of student volunteering abroad is therefore not only valuable for students looking to gain that all important work experience to strengthen their CV, but it also offers students and graduates the chance to experience a new side of the working environment related to their degree.
In short, students and graduates must not under-estimate the importance of volunteering or intern roles. Without it, the quest for a full-time job will be far more of a struggle.
So go out there and enjoy your volunteering; make new friends, taste new foods, see a shark, or climb a high mountain. The world is a place of beauty for all to experience; both good and bad. You are privileged to be able to take a gap year and experience the world in this way - be thankful.