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Does volunteering help people get paid work?

Some research
Our view
Practical suggestions

See also volunteering and claiming benefits


Volunteering can help some people get paid work but it's a far from certain route and done wrongly may even be counter productive.

Some research

Many recruiters of volunteers and others suggest that volunteering is helpful to people looking for paid work. For example Volunteering: a valuable pathway to employability describes a programme for disadvantaged people and reports:

The project succeeded in assisting 22% of participants into paid work. Of those who had not found a job, 69% were actively seeking employment and 80% felt, as a result of participating in the programme, they were now more confident about finding paid employment.

However, weaknesses include not knowing if the 22% would have got work anyway and also not knowing if the 80% who became more confident actually secured employment.

A paper that avoids these weaknesses is Does volunteering improve employability? Evidence from the British Household Panel Survey

Some key extracts:

Our analysis found that volunteering has a significant, but weak, effect on employability in terms of entry into work. The frequency of volunteering, however, makes a difference to its effects on employment outcomes. The effects also vary according to demographics. The evidence on job retention is weaker, and volunteering appears to have zero or even negative effects on wage progression.

Volunteering on a monthly basis had a positive effect on the chances of people not in work one year moving into paid employment the next year. However, those volunteering on a weekly basis or a yearly basis had lower than average chances of moving into paid work.

Volunteering had a positive effect on the chances of moving into work for people aged 45-60 years old when undertaken on a monthly or slightly less frequent basis. We found no positive effect of volunteering on young people’s (16-25 year olds) employment, no matter how much they did: Infrequent volunteering had no effect; regular (monthly or weekly) volunteering had a negative effect. Among 26-44 year olds,volunteering had very little effect – either positive or negative – on the chances of moving into employment.

Overall then, our analysis suggests that some volunteering can have a positive effect on the likelihood of people moving into employment, but it depends on who you are, why you are out of work, and on how much volunteering you do. Doing ‘too much’ volunteering (i.e.... on a weekly or more frequent basis) had a universally negative effect, particularly among young people and/or students.

Our view

We've seen cases where a volunteer has progressed to paid work - and cases where they haven't. We think it can help some jobseekers but it needs to be "relevant volunteering" and  part of a plan. See our Practical suggestions

We get a lot of contact from support workers, etc., working to resolve the barriers their clients have to employment. While volunteering may be helpful, those barriers are often barriers to volunteering too. Points to note:

  • Charities use volunteers to help them get their jobs done - helping the volunteer is secondary
  • Volunteers need to be reliable and not need excessive support
  • For most of the charities we recruit for, there is little difference between a barrier to employment and a barrier to volunteering
  • We know the value of "supported volunteering" but are not funded for it.

Practical suggestions

For potential/volunteers/jobseekers

Look carefully at your job goals and what routes are likely to work. If volunteering helped other people get the sort of job you'd like, consider it seriously. For example, many people employed by charities got there through volunteering with that charity or a similar one. However, some charities have all their paid jobs at HQ in London even if they use volunteers near where you live. Other charities do have local paid positions. If your target job is in the commercial sector, there might be an equivalent volunteer role that would help - EG: Charities often need Receptionists - and so does business.

It's good to be clear what you want to get out of volunteering whether that's something emotional or practical. Good volunteer recruiters will want to understand your motivations and will want to help you get what you want. Sometimes they are able to give you the chance to acquire skills and experience related to your job goal so it's well worth talking to them.

Volunteering may also be a useful route to change career. EG: Your paid job is technical but you wonder about changing to a more "people" orientated role. There are many volunteering roles which give you the chance to sample this sort of role. Also,  if you are out of work, having something interesting to do with your time can help your wellbeing. See also volunteering and claiming benefits

For volunteer recruiters

Think carefully before suggesting that the role you are advertising will help people get employment. Is it really true? If a volunteer is hoping to gain employment in the future, try and adjust their tasks to help them gain useful experience and skills.

(September 2017)

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