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Developing my career in the environmental sector through volunteering

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Ally Lemon looking through binoculars © Andrew Grieve
Ally Lemon © Andrew Grieve

By Ally Lemon, Conservation Officer Argyll, Arran & Ardnamurchan - RSPB

We are all told when we are studying or trying to get into the conservation sector that volunteering and getting practical experience is hugely important, and it is, it’s the reason I now have a job. However, something that is not always recognised is that continuing to volunteer once you are in the sector can be hugely valuable as well.

Ally manning a Froglife stand © Carolyn Lemon
Froglife stand © Carolyn Lemon

A lot of the roles in the sector are contract based due to funding so you may be in a role that requires you to run the school aspect of a project, so you come out of this role a superstar in running education sessions for school children but the next role that you want to apply for could be more adult based learning or it could be a totally different role altogether. This is where taking up a voluntary role can help, it’s a great way to keep skills up to date and gain new ones that you might not get through employment straight away.

SWT Young Leaders at Scottish Parliament event © Imogen Beck
SWT Young Leaders at Scottish Parliament event © Imogen Beck

I have volunteered for a conservation charity for a number of years, I started out by volunteering with the local group’s committee doing things like helping organise the winter talks programme. I then applied to become a Young Leader and this opportunity opened so many doors for me, I was able to attend parliamentary events and help with the recruitment process for new Young Leaders. Both these opportunities lie outside the remit of my current job but are really useful skills to have as I move further through my career in the sector. I was also very fortunate to be elected as one of the trustees for the charity last year and this has been an amazing opportunity, being able to help guide the strategic direction of the organisation and interacting with senior managers and other trustees. Skills and knowledge that I may not get for several years through employment.

Pond dipping © Ally Lemon
Pond dipping © Ally Lemon

Organisation insight and getting to know people within the conservation sector are also important and volunteering can help play a part in this. If you volunteer with other organisations outside of your job you get to build a relationship with them, you can get a taste of what it is like to be involved with that organisation and you can get an idea of the organisation’s priorities. All of these are really important if an employment opportunity comes up, you’ll have a better understanding of how to focus your application.

Volunteering is also a great networking opportunity; I have met lots of people through volunteering that I still stay in touch with. This can be very useful as it gives me contacts if I need advice or wanted to work with another organisation, I already know someone who I can get in touch with rather than just emailing the info inbox.

I know not everyone has the capacity to fit in volunteering in the traditional sense due to work patterns or other life commitments, however, if there is an opportunity or a skill you are wanting to develop most organisations nowadays are aware of this and have flexible opportunities and are willing to adapt roles to help fit around people’s lives.

And finally, and probably the most important reason why, I continue to volunteer is that I know I am helping some great organisations undertake work to help protect our natural environment.

First published in CJS Focus on Volunteering in association with National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces with Parks Community UK on 22 February 2021. Read the full issue here

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Posted On: 02/02/2021

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