One thing that I come across very often working with the youth population is that many jobs (especially in today’s market) require experience. So how do you get experience when no one will give you a chance to gain experience? There are several ways to get around it, and sometimes you have to be creative!
I’m sure that you have heard lots of teachers and counselors telling you that you should consider volunteering at a non-profit organization to gain some essential work skills. Well, I’m here to tell you the same! Volunteering has several benefits.
First, and in my opinion most important, it expands your network. Volunteering allows you to make connections with new people who are often in a position to give you what you want…..paid employment! Perhaps the person in charge of the organization that you are volunteering with will see your work ethic and consider you for a paid position with their company. Another possibility is that you will volunteer with someone that owns their own company or knows of a paid position that you would qualify for. A substantial percentage of job openings are never advertised or announced publicly, but filled though word-of-mouth or networking – it’s all about who you know!!
Second, volunteering helps you build skills for future employment. Not only does it help build specific work skills but also gives you the opportunity to gain general employability skills such as time management, following directions, customer service skills, and even interviewing skills as you will likely still have to interview with someone to be accepted as a volunteer.
Finally, volunteering provides you with a wealth of personal satisfaction. You might realize that you really want to go into that specific field of work or on the flip side, realize you hate that specific field of work. You might really develop a love for volunteering as a new hobby. You might find a new sense of dedication to the people of your community. The bottom line: volunteering is almost never a waste of your time.
2. Connect with Co-Op
I cannot express enough how important it is to get in touch with your co-op/internship office. They are one of the best ways to gain experience in your field. Cooperative Education (co-op) programs are usually run through a college or university but there are some high schools that run co-op programs as well. You generally do not need any experience as long as you have had some school in the field. The idea behind these is that you will get work experience (some paid and some unpaid) and get credit towards school at the same time.
It’s beneficial for employers because they get employees that are motivated to work for more than just a paycheck. They also have the opportunity to teach these youth more about the business than a regular employee might be willing to learn.
Students that participate in co-ops or internships have a humungous advantage over other students that choose not to participate. You gain specific career experience. Many, many, many (did I stress many?!?) of these internships actually turn into full-time or extended employment. They generally pay decently (if they are a paid experience), usually above minimum wage. And…wait for it….you get school credit too! Seriously, go to the co-op office in your school or on campus now.
3. Federally Funded Programs
Okay, so I might be a little bit biased in this one….but it really is an extremely beneficial and somewhat untapped resource. The programs such as the one that I coordinate at the Ferndale Career Center, Michigan Works are an excellent way to gain actual on-the-job work experience. There are some eligibility requirements for these programs but if you are eligible, you will get individualized help with job searching, interviewing skills, resume building, soft skills, and ultimately a paid “internship”.
In my program, I take pride in really getting to know each individual youth participant to get a better understanding of specific needs and career goals. It is an essential piece of my service philosophy to appreciate each individual’s path and more importantly to help the youth to figure out their own way of succeeding. I have encountered the same philosophy and attitude from every other Youth Coordinator that I have worked with throughout the Michigan Works! Agencies.
4. Create Your Own Skills
If you don’t have work experience, create some! Perhaps you can start a small lawn company or babysitting gig. In to art or music? Start creating it and open up an Etsy account or sell your tunes on iTunes! If nothing else, this can show a potential employer that you are capable of being committed to something that you’re passionate about. It also allows you the opportunity to develop a personal brand. No matter what age you are, it’s never too early (or late) to develop a personal brand and show people what you really care about!
This is by no means an extensive list of ways to gain experience when you feel stuck in the “no experience, no job, no experience” cycle, but it will get you started. The bottom line is, find new resources, be creative, and tap into your existing group of connections and you’ll be on your way to permanent employment in no time!