How to use your travels to boost your career

Jenny Collins, of NGO Frontier, looks at how gaining qualifications during a gap year or sabbatical can give your career a welcome boost.

Gap years and sabbaticals are becoming more and more popular for young and old alike. Many who choose to spend this time volunteering also opt to gain a qualification at the same time. As well as experiencing new cultures and learning a variety of transferrable skills, coming home with a recognised qualification will improve your career and employability regardless of which stage of education or employment you are at, making volunteering abroad an invaluable experience.

teaching during a gap yearThere are various courses you can take depending on your interests and career plans. Aspiring teachers are able to take TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) certificates or BTECs whilst teaching abroad. This normally involves keeping a detailed log book of your experiences whilst carrying out day-to-day volunteering duties.

There are a variety of other BTEC courses – all internationally recognised – that can be completed during a volunteer trip. Normally these involve a minimum stay to ensure you have the time to complete all the necessary work. Again these tend to be assessed through log books and/or presentations with most organisations having staff that will be there to help you with the tasks. The BTECS can come in a range of levels, depending on what you want the qualification for and how much work/time you want to put into it.

If you’re planning to study a conservation or environment focussed course at college or university, taking a BTEC beforehand could improve your chances of getting onto the course at your desired place of study. If you’re doing it afterwards or alongside, it could help you with your job search. Another option is to use a volunteering project to actually complete your university studies by carrying out research for a piece of coursework or even for your dissertation.

Wannabe and beginner divers can benefit from PADI qualifications when they take on a marine conservation projects. These can cover those who have never dived as well as people who already hold provisional qualifications and are looking to expand on them.Doing BTEC in a hammock

BTECs are particularly good for people wanting to officially document what you learn as part of a conservation research project. They’re also great for people wanting to learn more about leading expeditions or becoming field guides. If you’re considering a change of career, a qualification could be a step in the right direction and a useful way to make sure you are making the right decision before you take the leap.

When looking for qualifications, you should consider your reasons for doing so: what do you want to get out of it? Is one in particular is necessary for your future career progression? And importantly, are you are willing to put in the necessary work to make the most of it?

All qualifications gained abroad are particularly beneficial as they are being obtained in real-life situations rather than in a class-room environment – this not only makes the experience more valuable but more enjoyable too.

About the author: Jenny Collins works for Frontier, an NGO dedicated to safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, and building sustainable livelihoods for marginalised communities in the world’s poorest countries. Check out the wide variety of opportunities to volunteer abroad with Frontier: whether you’re looking for placements involving teaching abroad, wildlife conservation volunteering, or simply some adventure travel, Frontier is sure to have something suitable. Visit