Perhaps more so than ever before, young South Africans are facing a real predicament over how best to get started with their careers.

Unresolved protest action in our universities suggests that 2017 could see a number of school leavers taking a gap year or filtering straight into the workplace.

Yet matriculants lack the thing most frequently required of jobseekers: solid work experience.

Needing experience to get hired for a first job can be very frustrating. In many cases, matriculants are aware of their talents – be it coding, photography or top marks in accounting – but they have yet to find an opportunity through which to demonstrate those talents.

Having a work portfolio is a foot in the door and a way to stand out from the crowd, especially when coming in at a junior position. So if nobody is hiring, perhaps it is time to get creative and get some experience with skills-based volunteering. While, fresh out of a 12-year sentence, the last thing on many matriculants’ minds is to work for no pay, volunteering presents a way to build this portfolio and demonstrate initiative.

Employers are increasingly looking at volunteering as an important part of assessing character – networking and recruitment site LinkedIn has even added a dedicated section specifically for it. The trick is to give your time smartly and find opportunities that promote your own growth and developing marketable skills.

Of course, you are much more of an asset to a charitable organisation when there’s a good match between your interests and their needs. Whether it is running their social media feeds, writing fresh content for their websites, helping out with fundraising proposals, filming events, or tutoring students in the syllabus you have just completed – there is a huge range of meaningful activities that you can get involved in while building up that all important “real world experience”.

So, before you despair over how to get your career started, consider that alongside a cash-generating stint at a local restaurant, career-minded teens can create real value for a charitable organisation while building a portfolio and collecting references.

A CV backed up with real examples of work done and a commitment to solving social challenges demonstrates one’s strengths, abilities, commitment and professionalism – and what boss doesn’t want that?

Andy Hadfield, is CEO of, a volunteer matching portal. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of TYI.

Categories: Careers News