The financial crisis has resulted in companies retrenching and requiring employees to take leave without pay on a weekly or monthly basis. With employment opportunities scarce, it may take job seekers much longer to find work. People may get frustrated and demotivated easily, losing direction in their career goals. Many career specialists agree that getting involved in voluntary work can help people to keep motivated in their job search and stay focused on goals. 'The uncertain economic climate is affecting everybody's lives, but people should take a more positive attitude towards difficulties and put their lives in positive perspectives,' said Flora Chung Woon-fan, chief executive of Agency for Volunteer Service (AVS), a statutory organisation tasked to provide members of the public with volunteer opportunities by liaising with non-profit organisations and private companies. There are 5,000 individual volunteers and more than 80 teams registered with the organisation, matching more than 30,000 volunteers to service opportunities. Ms Chung has seen a noticeable increase in the number of people in Hong Kong seeking voluntary work through her organisation over the past year, admitting that the rise could be attributed to the financial crisis putting people out of work. 'There has been a surge in recent months and the number of registered volunteers has doubled from the same period last year,' she said. Voluntary work can benefit people in their career development. 'Volunteers will get more exposure to people from all walks of life and different organisations. This helps them make more friends and build wider networks. In the course of rendering voluntary service, one's ability will be strengthened in areas such as communication, social skills, organisation and planning.' Although many people believe that youths and retirees form most of the volunteer population, the agency boasts a large number within the 25-45 age group. According to Ms Chung, there has been an upward trend of professionals taking up voluntary work in the community, with 35 per cent of its registered volunteers coming from fields such as accounting, education, health care and management. AVS offers people opportunities of a professional and general nature, with professional volunteer teams coming from areas such as tourism, hairstyling, photography and health care, including doctors and nurses. There are 400 organisations and companies registered with the agency and most are non-profit organisations. The registration validity of each organisation lasts two years. They can make an unlimited number of requests for volunteer service. 'On average we receive about 800 requests from organisations asking for the service of our volunteers every year,' said Ms Chung. To help volunteers ease into their roles, all are required to undergo training provided by the agency. The focus of training depends on the kind of work individual volunteers are involved in or on the different functions they take on. The training ranges from general guidelines to industry-specific service skills, leadership and voluntary service management. The organisation also tailors training courses for schools, non-profit organisations and private companies to meet their needs. Ms Chung said personal interest and time commitment were the major concerns for people to consider when taking up voluntary work, adding that the organisation also needed to consider the ability of the volunteer and their character to make sure the right volunteer was matched to the right task or project. 'A successful volunteering experience depends on whether the volunteer feels the work is meaningful and whether they enjoy the process and feel happy about it,' she said. While there is no minimum number of hours required for each volunteer, the agency expects every volunteer to commit at least 30 hours of service in a year.