If you are a young person yourself and thinking of starting a career in social work or are older and think you might want to switch jobs, a good way to get some experience of what social work involves is to do some volunteering. There are hundreds of ways you can volunteer, with different groups that look after the elderly or young people, vulnerable adults or adults with HIV. You can give just a couple of hours a month or several hours a week, depending on your other commitments. Not only is volunteering a good way to decide if social work is the career for you, but when you come to apply for a degree course or a job, it looks good on your CV that you did some volunteering in the social care sector first.
Finding volunteering opportunities
Most towns have a group that co-ordinates 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 day care centre or a befriending charity. Similarly, care homes and day care centres for the elderly are always happy to have volunteers come in and just chat 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 with 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; ChildLine, Samaritans and the HIV charity The Terence Higgins Trust. 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.