Volunteers build networks during festival season

ASHLEE STENNER

No one knows the importance of networking more than volunteer veteran turned Brisbane Festival volunteer organiser, Zac Reimers. 

Brisbane Festival volunteer coordinator Zac Reimers

Brisbane Festival volunteer coordinator Zac Reimers works hard to propel volunteers into the arts and entertainment industry. Photo: Brisbane Festival

Mr Reimers spent six years volunteering in various music and guest-orientated positions at the Woodford Folk Festival, before being offered a paid position at Brisbane Festival.

He said volunteering at a range of festivals and events had enabled him to not only learn event management skills, but to meet people with similar interests.

“I volunteered for the Woodford Folk Festival and that’s how I got into the industry, through volunteering,” Mr Reimers said.

He said volunteering programs offered opportunities to make practical and hands-on connections with like-minded people, making them a great way to get a start in an industry that is more meaningful than meeting people at crowded networking events.

“I came from that volunteering background myself, so I try to reflect that history in how I approach volunteer programs, especially Brisbane Festival,” Mr Reimers said.

He said while not everyone who volunteered was looking for a new career, volunteering could lead to work for those who wanted it.

“Not everyone is looking to climb the ladder, not everyone is looking for a new job or workplace experience, but for the people that are, I want to try and open doors for them wherever I can.”

There are roughly 2,300 volunteer opportunities on offer each year through Brisbane Festival, The Royal Queensland Show and The Brisbane Writers Festival alone, offering the chance for volunteers to learn about new industries, gain experience and develop new skills.

“It can be hard sometimes because some people don’t have any experience and are turned down from paid positions, so [they] want to join a volunteer position to build that experience,” Mr Reimers said.

“We don’t want to exclude that group of people as it is them reaching out trying to get that experience.”

Mr Reimer said he looked for what a person wanted to get out of their shifts and matched volunteers according to their career preferences.

“It’s not about what the volunteer can do for you, it’s about we can do for the volunteer,” he said.

Griffith University Career Advisor Mary Ellen Hempel said she tells graduates that networking is an important factor in getting coveted entry level positions.

“The reason why networking is important is because many jobs are never advertised but [are] gained through professional relationships,” Ms Hempel said.

“The idea about networking is that you create opportunities by instilling confidence in a potential employee or presenting a good face so someone can recommend you,” she said.

“So it’s not sufficient just to know people, it’s what they know about you.

“It’s about creating a good reputation before networking will work for you,” she said.

Volunteering works as a form of networking because it demonstrates personal traits that many employers are looking for such as integrity, commitment, honesty, organisational skills and the ability to learn.

“Employers are looking for well-rounded individuals and if you have volunteered, it shows that you will go the extra mile,” Ms Hempel said.

“It says something about your ethics and it might say something about your work ethic.”

While volunteering is one effective way to network, Ms Hempel said taking part in other extra-curricular activities could also boost resumes.

“If you have never worked in a part time job or played a sport, or if you’re not interested in anything outside of uni, you are going to be pretty dull to work with, but also you may not have developed some of those communication, teamwork and flexible skills gained through those experiences,” Ms Hempel said.

“The message is you need to be able convey is your unique group of strengths to your employers, but you can do that through a number of ways.”

Ali Saremi, an international student at Griffith University, said volunteering in Australia had been a fun, inspiring and worthwhile experience.

“As an international student, when I arrived in Australia, I was excited to get to know Australia culture and society,” Mr Saremi said.

“After searching and surfing the internet, I found the volunteering websites offering volunteering opportunities through charities,” he said.

“Volunteering opportunities have completely helped me developed my skills, such as communication, how to interact with different people, challenging myself in different situations, feeling more confident and making new friends.”

“I have met many people who have shared their experiences with me during volunteering events, which has helped me gain opportunities to become successful.”

Queensland’s premier literary event, the Brisbane Writers Festival, relies on the help of approximately 300 volunteers.

Brisbane Writers Festival volunteer coordinator Meg Vann

Meg Vann believes volunteering at the Brisbane Writers Festival can be a really valuable experience. Photo: Brisbane Writers Festival

Brisbane Writers Festival volunteer coordinator Meg Vann, who came from a community development background working with Legal Aid, said she loved seeing her volunteers benefit from the experience.

“The reason why I come back and do it every year is that I can connect people into networks and leave them with an ongoing sense of enrichment after their volunteer engagement,” Ms Vann said.

“Ways that we do this is through fostering teamwork between volunteers that often gives them confidence and experience in meeting some like minded people and, of course, some of them do have the opportunity to work with artists,” she said.

“And they also get to be a part of Queensland’s premier literary event, so there is a lot of excitement, a lot of book lovers, aspiring writers and publishers who volunteer with us.”

She said volunteer positions did not need be of relevance to an industry to have weight on a resume, as volunteering demonstrates drive and passion to develop career and professional goals.

“We have a really diverse and multicultural team each year that we love and are very proud of,” Ms Vann said.

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