Volunteering in Conservation Part 1: Local Volunteering

It would be difficult to find a person interested in working in conservation that hasn’t done some form of volunteering. In a field where we are told that volunteering is one of the best ways to help land a job, a common concern people have is how you can successfully turn your volunteer experience into employment. In the following two-part article series I spoke with two experienced volunteer managers and recruiters for their advice and experiences, beginning with a local perspective.

brendaBelinda Bean works at Macquarie University in Sydney and one of her many roles is to recruit volunteers into the Bushcare program:

I’m the sustainability officer at Macquarie University and I was a master’s student here myself doing Master of Sustainable Development.

Bushcare is a popular Australian volunteering network that works towards restoring the environment through activities such as weed removal and bush regeneration.

The Macquarie University Bushcare group formed in 2008 and since then hard working volunteers have transformed many areas around the University grounds.

The volunteers are mainly students and staff but we also promote to the community. The volunteers come, they’re talked through whatever we’re planting or weeding that day and why, they’re taught identification techniques and proper planting techniques and things like that.

Information for Bushcare is found around the university. Photo by Shana Ahmed.

Information for Bushcare is found around the university. Photo by Shana Ahmed.

Many of us volunteer with the hope that the experience will lead to a job so perhaps the most obvious question is what makes a good volunteer? 

Consistency, reliability and showing up. Bushcare is great because anyone can come along and its great to meet people from all walks of life and whatever they can put in is fantastic. It’s just having that commitment to show up.

It may be fear of meeting new people and putting yourself in an unfamiliar environment that is hindering your commitment to volunteer but Belinda explains how Bushcare can also be great for people that are shy or have social anxieties.

Students-celebrating-graduation-in-the-search-for-the-Top-Conservation-Training-Opportunities

It is really friendly. Things like Bushcare are great for people with social anxieties because it’s indirect. We’re not going to sit down face-to-face and talk. You’re welcomed as a group – it’s not assumed that everyone knows each other. A lot of people get to know each other through the indirect conversations they have with one another whilst planting and weeding.  

Some Macquarie University bushcare volunteers. Photo via http://www.facebook.com/groups/207401509330085/

Some Macquarie University bushcare volunteers. Photo via ww.facebook.com/groups/207401509330085

Taking that step from volunteering to finding a job is where lots of people can feel stuck and Belinda believes part of making the most of your volunteering is being confident in what you have learned and experienced.

We put so much kudos against degrees but really it’s what you have actually done in your field, that you know, that you have muscle memory of doing. What have you created? What have you changed? What have you seen transform because of your work? 

Having answers to these sorts of questions are invaluable when it comes to interviewing for a job. Put that experience on your CV – for example, ‘Bushcarer 2014 – present: I worked with a group of ten people to transform an area from a grassy patch into a biologically diverse, thriving riparian zone using XYZ techniques.’ Have confidence in your experience and what you’ve actually achieved.

If you’re an employer you want someone that’s got that experience. Consider it under the title of experience rather than paid or unpaid work. I really value what the student has done in terms of experience rather than what they’re paid to do.

Local volunteering is clearly a great way to incorporate volunteering into your everyday life that can be beneficial for both the community and for your own development. Belinda’s advice on how to approach your volunteer experiences with confidence and enthusiasm is useful and inspiring for anyone hoping to transform their volunteering work into a job.

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