Volunteering is a common practice in Canada. I came across an infographic (see below) indicating that in 2010 almost half of Canadians offered their time, energy, and knowledge to non-profits and charities across the country. This post is meant to provide you with some guidelines on volunteering as part of your Canadian job-search strategy.
Everyone has different motivations for volunteering and will draw unique advantages from their experience that paid labour cannot always provide. I volunteer on a weekly basis for a couple of different organizations here in Ottawa. Here is why I keep coming back:
1) I get to network with people that I wouldn’t meet otherwise
2) I love the feeling that I am making my community a better place
3) I learn new on-the-job skills and develop professionally in an environment that is virtually stress-free
Many newcomers to Canada consider volunteering a key part of their job-search strategy. If you are thinking of volunteering, here are a few tips about how to get involved.
In every community you will find a wide range of volunteering opportunities; from acting as a member of a non-profit board to literally licking envelopes (I have been there!). Think about what you would like to get out of volunteering and make sure it aligns with the opportunities you pursue. For example, you may want an opportunity that is closely aligned with your skills and expertise, or you might choose to explore a new field altogether in order to support a cause that is close to your heart.
To give you some ideas, here are common examples of volunteering opportunities:
Board and committee membership
Sports team coaching
Assisting vulnerable people in the community
Who to volunteer for
In many cities across Canada you can find organizations devoted to matching you with appropriate volunteering positions:
If you have a particular organization in mind, you could approach them to make a general inquiry about volunteer positions, or ask to speak with their internal volunteer coordinator.
Who not to volunteer for
While many newcomers pursue volunteering as a part of their job-search strategy, I strongly caution against volunteering for an organization or company that is not a registered non-profit charity. Although it may be tempting for you and the employer to enter into such a relationship for mutual benefit, working for free in a private-sector company puts you at risk of being exploited for your time and skills, and also puts the company at risk of infringing upon labour laws. While it may seem like a great way to ‘get your foot in the door,’ such experiences cannot guarantee employment and you may be very disappointed in the long term.
Each province has different legal language regarding what constitutes a paid (meriting at least minimum wage) vs. unpaid position. Here is a page describing the Ontario standards in the context of unpaid internships.
Volunteering is a fantastic way to participate in the community and establish a real sense of belonging. Because of my own positive experiences I recommend exploring volunteering – it could lead to a valuable employment connection, and at the very least it will help you to connect with new people, ideas, and experiences.
Here is the infographic from Imagine Canada describing the state of volunteerism in Canada in 2010.