If you are a young person thinking of starting a career in social work or if you are older and believe you might like to switch jobs then volunteering is a fantastic opportunity to obtain some experience of what social work entails. There are numerous opportunities to volunteer with organisations that care for the elderly, young people, vulnerable persons, or HIV-positive folks.
You can volunteer a few hours a month or many hours a week, depending on your other commitments. Not only is volunteering an excellent method to see if social work is the right career for you, but it also looks good on your resume if you completed some volunteer work in the social care sector before applying for a degree programme or a job.
Finding volunteering opportunities
Most towns have a group that coordinates volunteering for the whole area and keep a record of what opportunities are available. If you have a specific organisation or type of work in mind, then you might want to contact someone directly to see if they accept volunteers. If you want to work with children, ask about volunteering at a local council daycare centre or a befriending charity. Similarly, volunteers are always welcome to visit elderly care homes and daycare centres and simply interact with their residents.
For both of these, you would have to undergo a check to make sure you had no criminal convictions and that it was safe for you to work with these vulnerable groups.
Volunteering and social work training
While some volunteering opportunities involve spending a couple of hours with someone to cheer up their day or take them on an outing, there are some volunteering roles that will actually provide some of the training you might need to be a social worker.
Communication skills are a very important part of the job – not only in being able to say the right thing to a client or their family but in being able to listen, sensitively and carefully, to what they are telling you. There are several organisations that run telephone counselling and who are always looking for volunteers.
Obviously, these positions are more responsible than taking an older lady out for a cup of tea, and consequently, you would have to go through weeks of training and monitoring before answering phones yourself. This would be a great introduction to the communication skills you would need if you were going to become a social worker later in life and would really help you decide if social work could be the career for you.
As well as helping you in your chosen career, volunteering is a great thing to do for your own well-being as it makes you feel good about helping someone else and improves your own community at the same time.