Does volunteering improve employability?
Generally, we see volunteering as an experience that is offering participants the chance to develop new skills, extend networks, build CVs, try new vocations, and gain experience. As such, it fits well as one of the ranges of mechanisms promoted in the UK as part of the ‘contemporary pursuit of employability’.
A team of researchers from Birmingham University decided to investigate the impact of volunteering on a career.
The central question that the study seeks to address is whether volunteering can help people improve their position in the labour market. The study was based on a longitudinal perspective by drawing on data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), 1996- 2008, which included questions on both volunteering and employment over seven waves.
The authors wanted to explore the effect of volunteering on:
– the move from being out of work into work,
– retention for people in employment,
– progression within employment in terms of increases in wage rates.
Entry into work
The study showed, that 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.
Alongside exploring the impact of volunteering on the move into employment, the authors explored its impact on job retention: remaining in employment rather than leaving a job. Volunteering several times a year had a (significant but weak) positive effect on job retention for the sample as a whole; whereas more or less frequent volunteering had no effect.
As an indicator of progression within the labour market, the study also explored the effect of volunteering on wage rates. Frequent (weekly) volunteering and infrequent (several times or once a year) volunteering had a negative effect on wage rates, while the effect of monthly volunteering was not significant. According to this analysis, volunteering doesn’t appear to help people get on in their career, in terms of earning more, and if anything has the opposite effect.
The results of this study are a little bit puzzling. The analysis of the BHPS has found that volunteering has a weak effect on employability, in terms of moves into employment, job retention, and progression. Haven’t the policy and practice discourses put great store on the link between volunteering and employability?
What could be the explanation for these results?
Like all researches, this one has also some limitations.
- The researches didn’t know anything about the nature of volunteering that was being undertaken by BHPS respondents, beyond how frequently it was done – and according to other studies, this influences the effect of volunteering on moves into employment.
- The time period within which the BHPS data was gathered may be influencing the results, as might the treatment of time within the analysis.
- The analysis has explored the effects of volunteering one year on the moves into (and out of) employment the following year. The authors might find different results if they explored longer-term effects.
- Despite the attention that has been paid to the potential link between volunteering and employability, only a minority of volunteers claim to be interested in the link. Conceptualizing volunteering as something other than work shifts the focus from employability-related outcomes to other impacts, such as individual sociability, enjoyment and wellbeing, and social capital gains.
If you find this research interesting, check HERE for the whole text of this study with references and additional information.
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