Link between volunteering and employment 'complicated' says new research

2 July 2013 - Press release

Policy initiatives have often focused on volunteering as a route to employment. But new research suggests that the link between volunteering and increased employability should not always be assumed.  

A study by the Third Sector Research Centre finds that volunteering can have a positive effect on the likelihood of some people getting a job – but this varies according to who you are and how often you volunteer. 

The research, the Centre’s 100th working paper, is one of the first studies to use large scale survey data* to directly explore the link between volunteering and employment. It measured whether volunteering in one year made you more or less likely to find a job in the next year. It also measured how volunteering related to job retention and progression. 

Overall, volunteering on a monthly basis had a positive effect on the likelihood of people gaining employment. However, volunteering on a weekly or more frequent basis had a negative effect on moving into employment. 

Volunteering had the most positive effect on employment for those aged 45 – 60. Those volunteering on a monthly or slightly less frequent basis were more likely to get a job in the next year. 

Among 26 – 44 year olds, volunteering had very little effect on gaining employment. The research also found no positive correlation between volunteering and the chances of students and young people gaining employment. However, these figures are likely to be affected by the number of students still in full time education and perhaps not seeking work.  

For those aged 26 - 44 volunteering several times a year had a positive correlation with job retention. Overall however, volunteering had no particularly strong effect on job retention, and an insignificant, or even negative, correlation with wage rates. 

Steve McKay, who co-authored the report, said “The data does not tell us about the type of volunteering people do, what motivates them to volunteer, or indeed what motivates them in their career – all of which are likely to influence  the effect on employment. Nonetheless, it does tell us that the link between volunteering and employability is more complicated than people often assume. One problem lies in focusing on the supply side of the labour market. Volunteering may make people more employable – by building skills, confidence, increasing networks – but it cannot address the structural disadvantages that many still face in the labour market, nor can it address the demand for jobs. 

We also know from other research that few people volunteer directly for employment gains. Focusing too heavily on volunteering as a route into work may neglect many of the other reasons why people volunteer. It may also play down the impact it has on other areas of life – such as individual well-being, sociability, or building social networks.”

See the research: Does volunteering improve employability? Evidence from the British Household Panel Survey, by Angela Ellis Paine, Stephen McKay and Domenico Moro

*The research analysed data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) from 1998 – 2008. The BHPS is a long running panel survey with data available from 1991 – 2008/9. Since 1998, it has included a question on volunteering. 

We created a longitudinal dataset of over 92,000 observations (25,000 different individuals observed for an average of close to four of the relevant waves of the survey). We use data on the current employment situation and the employment situation from one year before, and consider how the association between the two is mediated by reports of volunteering. 

Posted on Tuesday 2nd July 2013