Volunteering is rewarding in and of itself. It is an opportunity to benefit communities and individuals, to create positive change in the world, and to have fun in the meantime. In addition to these important individual and societal benefits, volunteering is also a great way of learning new practical skills, gaining hands-on experience, and exploring one’s passions. Recent research shows that volunteering significantly increases chances to advance professionally and that employers are ever more receptive to the benefits of volunteerism. The Deloitte 2016 Impact Survey, a survey of company employees responsible for staffing decisions, reveals that:
- 92% of respondents agree that volunteering improves employees’ broader professional skill sets;
- 82% of respondents are more likely to choose a candidate with volunteering experience;
- 92% of respondents agree that volunteering is an effective way to improve leadership skills.
At AFS, volunteers take on many exciting and enriching roles, such as supporting the implementation of student exchange programs, planning cultural events, and leading community projects. Among our volunteers from 25 countries who took the Volunteer Survey & Evaluation in 2016, 72% responded that during the past year AFS has been a great learning environment. Put differently, learning opportunities abound at AFS, opportunities ranging from interacting with students from different cultures to working with AFS’s more experienced volunteers. As importantly, our volunteers not only have access to AFS’s diverse learning modules and conferences but also to the comprehensive trainings we offer.
We have asked our volunteers how volunteering with AFS has helped them develop skills that are relevant to their careers, and what emerged is that their gains are varied and significant. In addition to the critical intercultural competencies that the AFS Intercultural Link Learning Program develops, here are the 3 most common responses we gathered from our volunteers:
- Public speaking and self-confidence: If you have ever spoken in public, you know how daunting it can be: speaking in public seems to be people’s number one fear. Our volunteers’ most common answer to the question above is that AFS has helped them develop the skills needed for a successful public speech. For example, our volunteers reported being able to present information to large audiences more clearly and effectively. In addition to these gains, they also report significant boosts to their self-confidence. Sophie from AFS Belgium French argues, “It’s really useful as I’m studying tourism management and I will need to do those things [speaking in public]”; Thomas from AFS France said that these skills not only help him professionally but also “help [him] pretty much everyday.”
- Flexibility and increased ability to adapt to new environments: Volunteers say that being part of a great intercultural community like AFS has made them more resourceful and resilient to change – evermore important skills in today’s world. In fact, adaptability is considered a competitive advantage, and employers are likely to prefer individuals who can figure out solutions independently and creatively. Wiktoria from AFS Poland remarks, “I have definitely broadened my mind and perspectives, which helps a lot every time I’m afraid of trying something new… Because of volunteering in AFS I had a chance to meet people who motivate me everyday to change the world and what might be more important at the beginning – to change myself”. On this same point, Karolina from AFS Poland adds, “I’ve matured a lot and learned how to deal with problems. I’ve become independent”.
- Teamwork and collaboration: Working in groups of volunteers who are different in age and background is an excellent way to develop teamwork competences, what Marín from AFS Iceland calls “people skills: communication, organizing teamwork, empathy, listening”. These so-called “soft skills” are crucial to a healthy and successful work environment, and even more important for leadership roles. Marcela from AFS Argentina remarks how AFS has provided her with these skills, saying, “joining my local group of AFS volunteers taught me how to work in a team and interact with people from different backgrounds.” Teamwork and collaboration competences are beneficial for any professional endeavour, and are required for communal cooperation.