A case for skills based volunteering Solving the lack of work experience riddle

Knowledge has no value except that which can be gained from its application toward some worthy end. – Napoleon Hill Click To Tweet

January 2018 has been a very interesting month.

I am not one to easily back away from challenges that will stretch my abilities, especially those  that I have created myself.  Welcome to the Vocational Service Challenge – #vocationalservicechallenge – a month long demonstration of volunteerism of service above self through the use of skills honed in ones career.

The rules of the challenge are as follows:

Vocational Service Challenge #VocationalServiceChallenge

As part of the challenge I gave a presentation to a group of energetic and enthusiastic young professionals from the Rotaract Club of St. Andrew, Jamaica. The topic:

The lack of work experience: is vocational service an answer

A case for skills based volunteering 

For those that don’t know Rotaract is the junior arm of Rotary, with Rotary being the not-for-profit service organization that is,

a global network of 1.2 million neighbors, friends, leaders, and problem-solvers who see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change – across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves.

Rotarians and by extension Rotaractors live by the motto:

Service above self. Click To Tweet

And I should know I am a proud member of the Rotary Club of St. Andrew, the parent club of these Rotaractors.

At the heart of the presentation was finding a solution to the lack of work experience riddle that often plague young people when they strike-out into the work world. What intrigued me the most was that a possible solution may rest at the very core of Rotary – vocational service.

However, more on this later.

Work experience riddle
What is the work experience riddle? Well I guess it is more of a paradox than a riddle and it goes something like this:

I need a job but in order to gain the job I need experience but in order to gain experience I need a job

Sound familiar.

I am sure we have all experienced the frustration associated with this riddle/paradox at some point in our careers.

Vocational Service
Vocational Service is one of Rotary’s Avenues of Service.  Vocational Service calls on every Rotarian to:

  • Aspire to high ethical standards in their  occupation
  • Recognize the worthiness of all useful  occupations
  • Contribute their vocational talents to the problems and needs of society.

While all three are important I specifically highlighted in blue the last point – contribute their vocational talents to the problems and needs of society.  In other words Rotarians through volunteerism are using their vocations’ skill-set or career based skill-sets  or professional based skill-sets, whatever you want to call it,  to impact the world.

Skills based volunteering 
Vocational service is therefore a form of skills based volunteering. Skills-based volunteering is defined as:

leveraging the specialized skills and talents of individuals to strengthen the infrastructure of nonprofits, helping them build and sustain their capacity to successfully achieve their missions. – Corporation for National and Community Service

This type of volunteerism has clear benefits to both parties.

Three key benefits of skills based volunteering are:
1. You’ll save a nonprofit money.
2. You’ll hone your skills and gain experience
3. You’ll have the opportunity to network

Skills based volunteering, or in Rotary speak vocational service, is a form of civic engagement that allows one to hone existing skills while developing new ones. Click To Tweet Importantly, it allows the volunteer to point to a clear practical demonstration of their honed or newly acquired skills. Click To Tweet What is more skills based volunteering allows for low risk forms of experimentation in career development and or change. Click To Tweet

But how does one get into skills based volunteering?

Top five tips
Here are my top five tips for how best to engage in skills based volunteering:

  1. Make a list of the skills you already have
  2. Make a list of skills you want to have or ones you want to improve
  3. Make a list the skills required in a job that you are interested in
  4. Compare all three lists and identify overlaps and gaps between the three
  5. Identify an existing volunteering activity or create one for your self for acquisition or development of those skills critical to the job you are interested in

Based on the feedback from the Rotaractors during the presentation and my own later reflection I have created another set of tips I think would also be useful:

  1. Brainstorm ideas
  2. Think skillsets and not titles – think beyond the title of  your current job  by breaking down its skillsets
  3. Determine where and how you can add value to an organization or project
  4. Join a service based organization like Rotatory
  5. Have fun with the activity or activities that you choose to do

For further details please see my presentation below.




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