Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Volunteering in the construction industry

Volunteer work can not only be fulfilling but, depending on what you do, it can also sharpen your career skills, open doors and add necessary examples to your CV. This is especially true when it comes to the construction industry, where employers want to see concrete examples of teamwork, practicality and, potentially, management skills.

One of the greatest benefits, aside from the pleasure of helping others, is the chance to meet new people – and make important contacts. Major companies like Tarmac or Npower regularly send their employees on volunteer away days as a way of bolstering team spirit, enhancing communication or, sometimes just by way of a thank you, a means of letting the team get out of the office. And if you’re looking to break into such a company but aren’t sure who to contact, meeting someone while volunteering can be a vital foot in the door.

The projects these businesses help with are not always obvious so it can prove highly beneficial to think outside the box when considering volunteering projects. Npower, for example, sent its employees in 2009 to clean part of the coastline along the Vale of Glamorgan and, in partnership with Zurich, began the groundwork to build a community environmental facility at a primary school in Swindon. Volunteering projects involving more than one business are not uncommon so you’ll have an opportunity to meet several people at these events as well as picking up ideas from both organisations – something businesses encourage.

Jacqui Gavin, community investment executive at Npower, said: "There was some healthy rivalry on the day which only spurred the volunteers on. It was fantastic to look back at the end of the session and see what we had been able to achieve by working together."

Offering up your time for free isn’t as strange an idea as it might first sound and you don’t have to be working for a company already to do it. Around 44 per cent of British adults volunteer formally for a club or organisation (such as the Scouts, a local football club or a charity), and if you add in informal volunteers, those sparing the odd hour every couple of months or so to help others, the figure rises to 64% – that’s nearly two in three people. With such a large percentage of the population giving up their spare time, there’s clearly something in it.

“Volunteering is a great way to learn more about the new community that you are living in,” explains Laura Hacker of Coventry University’s Horizon Volunteering. “It also gives you the opportunity to learn new skills, meet like-minded people and make a valuable contribution to your local community.”

Horizon is one of the many organisations across the UK that can help organise volunteer work for you. The organisation finds out what type of volunteer work you’re looking for, what your aims are for that work and when you’re free. As Horizon has been running for nearly ten years, the organisation has hundreds of local contacts, from wildlife reserves through to local schools and homeless shelters. While primarily aimed at those studying at Coventry University, Horizon also helps other volunteers from the local community find placements and the benefits and reasons to volunteer, as listed below, are the same for both groups.

Other reasons to volunteer include:
Improve your CV
Boost your employability
Meet new people
Gain a sense of achievement
Improve your job prospects
Have some fun
Explore possible career paths before you settle on a professional route
Help your local community
Challenge yourself
Build your confidence
Make new contacts and find the right people to speak to
Follow up on an interest
Do something new
Turn theory into practice
Develop yourself

If you’re not sure you have the right skills to get the job you’re after, volunteering can again prove a good place to build on those skills or allay your fears. Of the 800 or so Horizon volunteers, 97% of them felt they’d picked up new skills as a result of volunteering and 90% thought they were more employable as a result of their efforts.

Wherever you are in the UK, there is an organisation that can help point you in the right direction for the skills and experiences you need. Do-it is a national database of volunteering opportunities in the UK and has been running since 2001. The website’s search engine has a section specifically for improving your employability (under ‘employment’ in the drop down box) which features roles designed to bolster your CV. If you can’t find something there, you can also try the websites for Volunteering England, Volunteering Wales or Volunteers Scotland. All of these websites offer geographically specific search engines so you can search for opportunities in your local area.

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