Helping Skilled Immigrants and Refugee Transition to Jobs: Part 3, Gaining U.S. Work Experience Through Volunteering

By Montserrat Caballero
Transitions to Jobs Volunteer Coordinator, Pima Community College

Volunteering is a very common activity in the United States. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, roughly a quarter of the population volunteers in some fashion. In many countries around the world, however, the concept of volunteering is not a part of either personal or professional life.

For highly skilled immigrants transitioning to working in the United States, volunteering is a great first step to becoming familiar with the U.S. workplace. In the Transition to Jobs class in the Pima College Adult Basic Education for College and Career (ABECC) Division, volunteering is presented as a very viable option for program participants. The focus of the class is to introduce US style job searching, including how resumes and cover letters should be written, the creation of an elevator speech, how to network, and several sessions of practicing job interviews.

Many of the students in the class have decade’s worth of hard and soft skills that would be valuable to an employer, but that experience is hard to translate since it is all from their countries of origin. Volunteering is presented as a way to get their foot in the door and develop US based experience. Having a volunteer job puts a U.S.-based position on students’ resumes, and allows them to develop references, another concept that is often unknown to many students, as they are not used in many countries around the world.

The many benefits of applying for and gaining U.S. volunteer experience
Often, organizations and institutions who utilize volunteers vet potential candidates similarly to prospective employees. Applications, interviews and even background checks are common practice. The experience of going through these steps is invaluable to highly skilled immigrants as a low stakes way to practice all they learn in the Transition to Jobs class.

Volunteering allows students to gain US experience, practice their English, explore career opportunities and improve their resume. It also allows students to learn about the community they have moved to and interact first hand with many different native English speakers, exposing them to local idioms and phrases. It also teaches students all of the intangible things about workplace culture in the US that is hard to convey through just presenting it in class, such as expected interactions with co-workers; how to interact with clients, customers and/or the public; how to address your supervisor and the ‘big boss;’ how to fill out paperwork; and what a typical flow of a work day might be like.

Volunteers are often a first pool of potential employees for many organizations. They have been vetted, and have been trained. Students who volunteer consistently with an organization could be hired if a position opens up. This is a tantalizing prospect for the Transition to Jobs students who are eager to be employed.

Creating profiles on volunteering sites and connecting with ABECC Division
Students who are interested in volunteering are encouraged to create profiles on volunteering sites such as Volunteermatch.org, and apply for positions based on their skill set, or what they may be interested in pursuing career wise. The Transition to Jobs class also connects students to volunteering within ABECC since the Volunteer Coordinator assists with the class. Currently, two past participants have applied to be volunteers and will be assisting their fellow students with computer and tutoring help. They have come in for their interviews and are completing their background checks.

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Please share your comments @CCCIE or success stories in a short paragraph description on Facebook. Does your college partner with employers to help skilled immigrants find useful volunteer experiences? Has that helped immigrants explore locals career options? We’d like to hear from you!

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