The message seems to be loud and clear in Britain today, if you aren’t so lucky to have a job you should do yourself and society a service and volunteer. With a record number of unemployment rates during the economic crisis, the best way to gain skills which will put you back in the job market is by volunteering. This is suggested from graduate advice sites to government initiatives. So, it benefits society and helps individuals to gain confidence and get back into the working world, right?

Unfortunately, the assumption that volunteering directly leads to employment is just that -an assumption. Since the summer Olympics in 2012 the government has been running volunteering schemes, under the Big Society agenda, in the hope to engage individuals in society and ultimately give them the skills to find employment. This idea has gained so much momentum that in September 2013 George Osborne announced the ‘Help to Work’ scheme which proposes that it should be compulsory for the long-term unemployed to participate in voluntary work as a scheme “designed to tackle long term unemployment”.

Research into the topic, however, has shown that there is no direct correlation between volunteering and employment. Findings published in the Voluntary Sector Review in 2013 suggest that volunteering has positive effect on employment for some individuals, but it can also have negative effect or no effect at all. For example, Andy Hurst found that while 88% of those looking for work believed that their volunteering would help them with gaining employment, only about 40% that did get a job stated that volunteering aided their employment. Daiga Kamerade also found that when analysing the relationship between formal volunteering and gaining employment, volunteering does not show significant positive influence in gaining full term employment. She attributes this to two main reasons. Firstly, the skills acquired in voluntary positions were not necessarily transferable or in demand. In addition, a poor job market leads to high competition where these skills are not necessarily valued.

What the research has shown is high variability in the link between volunteering, employability skills and employability. Just because you gain employability skills it does not mean that you will gain employability as it depends on what you have learned and how you can apply it to the working world. The government initiatives and the research is not considering volunteering for private businesses here (such as work experience placements, and internships) this is in regard to pure community based volunteering, which means that the skills that you learn do not always have a direct link to the work you may aim for. An exception to this is for individuals who wish to work in the third sector whereby volunteering is highly considered in the field, in particular when individuals have an interest in a certain cause. What this shows is that to gain employment through volunteering the best thing to do is carefully plan what you are doing with a specific focus in mind. This is a recommendation made by Kamerade herself. She suggests that making voluntary programs that focus on the skills needed for work placements.

The problem with this is that it suggests that volunteering should be considered purely in monetary terms. In reality, volunteering has been shown to have many positive impacts that are unrelated to employment. Volunteering has proven to aid mental health in individuals, and as research from the University of Exeter recently showed, also may prolong life. In addition it helps with social inclusion. As a society benefit it helps to build communities and those who are disadvantaged.

Ultimately, when it comes to volunteering and government policy the emphasis is in the wrong place. Not only has the notion that volunteering directly leads to employment proven to be inaccurate, but it also places the blame on individuals and suggests that the lack of employment in society at the moment is due to a lack of skills base and knowledge. In reality, a huge reason for the current state of unemployment in Britain is due to the economy, which is the government’s role to maintain. Volunteering is a worthwhile hobby, but when it comes to making it compulsory it can be controversial and demeaning. Furthermore, it begs the question, is this just another institution the government expects young people to go through in the hope of gaining a fulfilling career? Much like the promise of university, volunteering proves itself to be just as underwhelming in results towards direct employment.

Sources:

• http://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/2013/09/23/volunteering-during-unemployment-does-it-lead-to-paid-work/
• https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B5vWl0CNJlmmcEhVSW5uSFl6TDQ&usp=sharing&tid=0B5vWl0CNJlmmRXVVaDBzNFl0R1E
• https://www.gov.uk/government/news/help-to-work-scheme-announced-by-the-government
• http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/tsrc/research/workforce-and-workplace/digest3-volunteering-as-a-solution.aspx