Will a certificate in a social issue lead to a nonprofit job?
May 18, 2011 4:15 AM   Subscribe

In what cases is it worthwhile, career-wise to take a certificate (e.g., non-degree) program in an issue that interests you and you'd like to work in? I am looking in particular at the Food Security program at Ryerson.

Is it more worthwhile just to volunteer, for instance? This thread gives some conflicting answers about that. Would it be useful to have a theoretical grounding in the issues such as you'd get from doing a program like that, or is it mostly just important that one be hardworking and committed, and demonstrate that through volunteering?
posted by ITheCosmos to Work & Money (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How about both? Perhaps volunteer and ask the people there?
posted by dozo at 5:34 AM on May 18, 2011

I think it just depends on the details. You need to find a way to open doors. Volunteering can do that; grad school can do that; so can non-degree certificates, networking, and informational interviews. You just have to pick the right tool for the task, and it's hard to generalize.

In my experience, the certificates matter more when they are perceived as important in your field. Do a lot of people who you want to be hired by have that certificate? Is the person in charge of the program nationally or regionally seen as a leader in that field?

And, some certificate programs are aimed much more at mid-career than at entry level people; those might be less useful when starting out. Without, as dozo says, asking people already in your field, it's hard to say.
posted by Forktine at 5:38 AM on May 18, 2011

In my situation (I got my certificate in HR Management) it was because in the area I was in it was a very respected certificate. Basically every HR person in my city had the same certificate from the local university and it would have been difficult for me to move in the HR circles there without it. I also met some great people working in the industry and could network more efficiently. I also met someone who is now one of my best/closest friends but that wasn't really the point.

I agree with dozo, start by volunteering, the people working in the industry will tell you if the certificate is worth it or if volunteering is the way to go.
posted by magnetsphere at 6:29 AM on May 18, 2011

I've been in the non-profit sector for over 25 years, although my degree in film production has little to do with where I have always found myself working - with homeless &/or abused women. It all started with volunteering....
On the west coast (Vancouver) - many non-profits are required to be accredited, usually with COA (Council of Accreditation) or CARF. The accreditation agencies require that all employees have a minimum of a bachelors degree in the field and/or an equivalent of five years direct experience. As I also hire new employees – I must ensure that the applicant meets accreditation requirements. I cannot hire someone who just as a certificate, regardless of how much I like them.
As I have primarily worked in non-profits, I suppose I am fairly adapted to our dysfunctions. Be prepared for low wages, being paid for 35 hours a week but actually working 80 hours a week, no pension plan, going year by year never knowing if you will still have a job, using ancient computers and other technology etc…
I also coordinate over a hundred volunteers, many whom are students. They come in very idealistic about the world…and sometimes leave our program very frustrated with all the barriers they experience in doing social justice work. There are those that just want to study the problem – and there are some that actual want to fix the problem!.
I'm a bit aware of the food security issues as one of my many projects is developing a food program for homeless women. Food security is an issue that rises and falls. Although there may be some government money to develop studies, there's very little money to actually feed people!. There is still a strong attitude in our culture that food is something you should have to earn, not be given.
If you are interested, there is some interesting action here in Vancouver called the "Downtown Eastside Kitchen Tables" http://www.bcfoodsecuritygateway.ca/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=3274 .
Despite my cynicism, I would recommend taking the course!. You will make many connections in the course and no doubt meet like-minded people, who may lead you to other connections. People’s right to food will hopefully always be on the table.
posted by what's her name at 7:27 AM on May 18, 2011

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