5 ways volunteering can kickstart your engineering career

Volunteer gigs can make a serious impact – on others and your CV. Image: Shutterstock

Volunteering is a great way to meet new people and make the world a better place. It can also impress engineering employers – even before you have a degree.

1. Stand out from the crowd

Third year electrical engineering student Belinda Ziesig has already landed a professional role as an undergraduate engineering intern at renewable energy consultancy EnergyLink Services.

For engineering student Belinda Ziesig, volunteer roles have led to an awesome undergrad gig.

She says volunteering at youth mental health charity Reach Out and as a networking event organiser at University of Western Sydney gave her an edge. It helped her build the confidence and conversation skills to speak to her future boss at an informal networking event, developed her character and expanded her life experience.

Kathleen McCudden, Group HR Director at SEEK, says 94 per cent of hiring employers agree that volunteering builds skills for paid work, and 93 per cent believe volunteering is a credible way to gain work experience.

“We love to see that students have volunteered at uni,” says Natalie Carruthers, Talent Manager at construction firm Seymour Whyte.

2. Nail those interpersonal skills

The top three interpersonal skills on employers’ lists are communication, self-motivation and the ability to work under pressure. These can all be gained through volunteering.

“Everyone ends up with the same degree, but the interpersonal skills can set you apart,” says Belinda.

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Natalie says volunteering also develops time management, emotional intelligence, empathy and people skills. As well as solving technical issues, engineers need to communicate solutions to others and manage sub-contractors and tradespeople.

“Construction and engineering work are very team based,” she says.

3. Level up your life skills

Volunteering has taught Belinda skills that she can transfer to engineering – including problem solving and strategies to attract project partners.

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“Life skills are so valuable – and can’t be taught from a textbook,” she says.

Kathleen adds that as well as giving you great referees, the transferable skills from volunteering are valuable in engineering.

“It’s a great opportunity to learn – even if it isn’t the area you are interested in,” she said.

4. Try before you buy

While all kinds of volunteering can give you valuable skills, Kathleen says volunteering in the engineering industry can have benefits.

“It gives you an opportunity to try before you buy,” Kathleen adds.

Seymour Whyte values graduates who have relevant work experience or industry-related volunteer experience, but says all volunteering experience is important.

“We are looking for your ability to give back to the community, to get involved and work within a team of people to achieve a good outcome,” Natalie says.

5. Follow your passions

Kathleen suggests being open to volunteering opportunities outside engineering – including sporting clubs, social and uni groups, hobbies and interests.

According to SEEK’s Kathleen McCudden, volunteering experience is seriously attractive to hiring employers.

“Think about some of the learnings that will be applicable to your engineering career,” she says.

Through volunteering, Belinda has made an impact in areas she cares about. Her latest volunteer role is Regional Operations Manager at Power of Engineering, where she’ll organise events in Tasmania, the NT and other regional areas to inspire high school students to consider engineering careers.

Natalie advises students to enjoy their time at uni and take all the opportunities that come their way – including volunteering.

“It’s a great way to build your networks and secure a job when you graduate,” she says.

So, which interpersonal skills are employers looking for?

According to SEEK, get clued up on the following:

  • Communication (39%)
  • Self-motivation (36%)
  • Ability to work under pressure (33%)
  • Time Management ( 28%)
  • Adaptability (24%)
  • Decision Making (20%)
  • Culture Fit (19%)
  • Leadership (19%)
  • Growth potential (18%)
  • Collaboration (15%)
  • Creativity (15%)
  • Prioritisation (9%)
  • Conflict resolution (6%)
Nadine Cranenburgh

Author: Nadine Cranenburgh

Nadine is an electrical and environmental engineer who works as a freelance writer and editor. She loves creating articles and content about exciting and complex technology.

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