Shouldn't entry level jobs be exactly that - entry level? There is nothing more frustrating than coming across a job opportunity that requires what seems like 100 years of experience (more like 2-3 years, but it really feels like 100 years of experience when you are fresh out of university).
How does one go about gaining the necessary work experience required in a country like South Africa where the youth unemployment rate is sitting at levels that are higher than my hopes and dreams? The answer is (drum roll, please) VOLUNTEER WORK.
Volunteer work is more beneficial than you think, so, perhaps I should list the benefits before diving into the detail:
1. Career development - You are afforded the opportunity to live out what you have been studying. It is the best time to see whether the career path you have taken with your studies is one that is best suited for you. You will also get to map out what your strongest skills are, and get a chance to work on your weaker ones.
2. Freedom to use your skills in a way that will benefit others - When you have identified an organisation that you would like to volunteer in, you are in a position to let the organisation know how you wish to contribute. Non-profit organisations (NPOs) welcome a variety of skills that will meet their needs. So, whether you have skills in social media or maintenance, you are able to bring a skill to the table that will grow you as an individual and contribute positively to the organisation.
3. Learn to be selfless - Volunteer work is that silent reminder that you are not getting compensated financially for your time. The upside of this is that you learn to be selfless. Volunteer work, especially at NPOs and NGOs, gives you an opportunity to be part of something that is greater than you. The work you do there is for the benefit of others, whether it be patients or vulnerable groups such as women and children. It is often known as thankless work.
Now, we need to address the logistics of it all. How can you, as an unemployed individual be in a position to travel to a location to volunteer? Well, do what you can with what you have. Gather information on various organisations around your area.
If there is no organisation on your area, extend your search to nearby areas where an organisation would accept your assistance through online activities. What I mean here is that if you would like to offer skills that you would be able to do virtually, then do that. Another option is to plan to spend a day at an organisation every quarter - that way, less money is used on transport. It does mean that you would not be able to be there all the time, but if you let them know upfront about the time you are able to give, you and the organisation may be able to reach an agreement.
Some organisations are in a position to assist you with transport money where possible, but that would need to be discussed with the respective party.
A good track record is determined by your commitment, so do not make sporadic appearances or miss scheduled times. This can affect your credibility as well as the trust between you and the organisation.
My advice to you would be to start young. Start volunteering during your semester breaks or on weekends. This will add up nicely for your work experience. If you are much older now, do not fret. There is still time to volunteer - it does not have an age restriction.
Look out for the next article which will include some insight into my volunteering experience and how that helped me shape the career that I have now.