Newcomer and immigrant volunteers
Are you new to Canada?
Want to find employment?
Want to learn about Canadian culture?
Want to practice your English?
Want to meet new people?
If you have answered “yes” to any of these questions, it’s likely that you have been told that you should consider volunteering … especially if you are looking for employment.
The advice was not wrong – but it’s not always easy to find volunteer opportunities when you have a language barrier, lack of experience, transportation challenges, or maybe all 3!
Here are some things you should be aware of when you are looking for volunteer opportunities:
Speaking and maybe even writing English well is important
No one expects newcomers to Canada to have an excellent command of the English language, but the truth is that some positions require you to be able to easily communicate in English. These positions may include:
o Talk on the phone
o Greet people, such as receptionists
o Answer questions from people
o Have to give directions to other people
o Teach or lead discussions
Are you just starting to learn English?
You can still volunteer, but you may have a harder time finding volunteer opportunities. You may be offered positions that are not “front-line” where you are working directly with the public (such as an information desk or selling tickets at an event) but perhaps you could greet and welcome people and hand out programs or brochures at an event. You may find that practicing English with your fellow volunteers or other staff will be a good start.
Some volunteer positions don’t really “exist”
Perhaps you are looking for Canadian experience in your field of work, such as engineering, medical technician, or the trades and you’ve been told that in order to get paid work, you must have some experience here in Canada – and volunteering is the ticket! It’s true that volunteer experience can help you to secure employment – but it is unlikely that you will find that kind of experience directly related to your field of work. Why? Because the majority of volunteer positions take place in non-profit organizations. Most areas like engineering, specific areas of health care or the trades are run by private or government organizations that tend not to utilize volunteers in these positions.
The majority of volunteer roles take place at non-profit organizations or charities, and their work usually involves supporting people with disabilities, the homeless, the elderly, the very young, etc.
There are not many organizations that can offer specific experience but there are some. For example, Habitat for Humanity volunteers help build houses! It doesn’t hurt to contact private companies and talk to them about job shadowing or maybe even the possibility of volunteering for them – you never know.
Keep in mind however, that sometimes when you work for no pay - for example, helping out in a family business, that will likely not be seen as having the same amount of value on a resume as the kind of traditional volunteer work you would do for a non-profit organization.
Volunteer experience that’s not related to your field of work is still valuable.
If you volunteer in Canada, it’s still helpful on your resume. It shows:
Your skills and strengths
That you care about your community
You are responsible
You are reliable
You have contributed to your community
Volunteering may also help you to:
Make contacts for the future
Meet people who may be able to recommend you for paid work
Find references for Canada
Practice English (if that’s a priority)
Learn about Canadian culture
Why is it so hard for me to find a volunteer position?
As mentioned earlier, the language barrier may be a challenge.
Also, if a person is volunteering exclusively to get experience in order to get paid work, there is some concern that as soon as that person finds paid work, they will immediately drop their volunteer work. Although we all understand that people need to earn a living – it can be hard for a volunteer coordinator to place you in a role that requires you to stay for a while when there is a chance that you will not be able to fulfill your commitment. What to do? Maybe you can ask the volunteer coordinator to consider pairing you up with another volunteer so that if you do have to leave, there is still someone in the position.
Here's a list of organizations that support new immigrants in a variety of ways, adapted from the Edmonton Public Library website.
Keep in mind that some of these organizations have volunteer opportunities as well, requiring varying degrees of English language skills.
ASSIST (formerly Edmonton Chinese Community Services Centre)
Provides immigrant services, family services, courses and seminars, and more.
Bredin Center for Learning
Offers employment assistance programs, including training programs, to youth, adults and newcomers to Canada.
Career Mentorship Program
Matches skilled immigrants in the Edmonton region with local employers who share a similar occupational background and creates networks through real-life connections and experience.
Catholic Social Services
Provides various settlement, educational, language/language assessment, employment and outreach services.
An organization that offers English language classes to adults 18 years and older.
A centre for immigrant women and their families.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
The Citizenship and Immigration Canada site provides the information needed to apply for citizenship.
Edmonton Immigrant Services Association
A not-for-profit organization that provides services to new immigrants, refugees and first-generation Canadians.
Edmonton Mennonite Centre For Newcomers
A great resource. Includes information on job finding, learning English, and community services.
IQAS International Qualifications Assessment Service
IQAS is a department of Alberta Employment, Immigration and Industry that provides (for a fee) an educational assessment for people who have educational qualifications from other countries.
Multicultural Health Brokers Cooperative Ltd.
Supports immigrant and refugee individuals and families in attaining optimum health through relevant health education, community development and advocacy support."
As well, you may want to review the 211 Resource List for Newcomers. This list is compiled by CMHA and is usually updated twice per year.
It can be discouraging but don’t give up! Try to find an organization or a cause that matters to you and the experience will be rewarding.