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Returning to STEM
Returning to STEM

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3.2 Unpaid or voluntary work

If you’ve been out of work for some time, you can sometimes feel like you don't have anything to show for all of this time spent ‘away’. In fact, the skills and experiences that you gain doing unpaid and voluntary work are often transferable to a work context, and many employers recognise their value.

Beryl is a returner who took part in the Open University research project described in Week 1. She returned to her job as a civil engineer after an eight year career break. Here she describes how she developed additional skills through her voluntary work as a school governor that helped her land a more senior job on her return to work:

I work for the school PTA and I became a school governor, ended up as Chair of Governors for a few years as well so I was quite usefully employed. I found the work in the school particularly useful because PTA work you are organising things, it was project management under a different guise, something that I was used to and with the governor work at the school as well you are managing things – managing finances, it was using skills that I had but in a completely different context. When I came back into engineering particularly I did use those years as PTA and Chair of Governors and that was particularly on my application form because I felt that the skills that I had learnt there and developed there were particularly relevant to taking a more senior job at work. The project management and the financial skills don’t have to be acquired in the workplace they can be acquired anywhere and I think they are just as valid.

Recording your voluntary work

Even if you think you haven’t done a lot, you should take some time to think laterally and creatively about all your unpaid activities, as you might well be surprised at the number of transferable skills you have acquired.

Voluntary work could include, for example, helping at a playgroup, organising events at a community centre or faith-based organisation, organising a school activity, chaperoning a trip or helping an elderly neighbour or a friend with their children. All of these activities and more help you to develop skills which are transferable, particularly in a management or organisational role, and these will enhance your CV and LinkedIn profile.

Need further inspiration? Here is a list of activities you might have been involved in during your career break:

  • treasurer of a Parent Teacher Association
  • member of an organising committee for a community event
  • coach for a children’s sports team
  • playgroup helper
  • reading with children in school
  • designing leaflets for a local political campaign
  • organising a camping trip for a youth group
  • Citizens Advice
  • organising charity events.

Activity 5 Reflecting on your unpaid work

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes

Make a list of some of the skills you have used in voluntary or unpaid work:


You may have included some of the following:

  • organising resources
  • financial planning and budgeting
  • managing other people
  • communication (verbal and written)
  • research and information seeking
  • creativity
  • leadership
  • presentation or performance
  • supporting or motivating others
  • working in a team.