Does volunteering improve employability? Evidence from the British Household Panel Survey

Briefing Paper 100

Various volunteering initiatives, launched by both New Labour and the Coalition, have assumed that volunteering increases employability and can act as a pathway into employment. But evidence supporting these assumptions remains scarce.

Our analysis uses data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) to explore the link between volunteering and employability in terms of movement into work, job retention, and progression in wage levels.

We found that volunteering has a significant, but weak, effect on entry into work. However, this varies according to the frequency of volunteering and demographics. Overall, volunteering on a monthly basis had a positive effect on the likelihood of people gaining employment in the next year, but volunteering too frequently or too infrequently had a negative effect. Volunteering had a positive effect on moving into employment for those aged 45 – 60, and for those with caring responsibilities.

The evidence on job retention is weaker, and volunteering appears to have zero or even negative effects on wage progression.

While the BHPS has limitations for this kind of analysis, the research suggest that too much has been made of the link between volunteering and employability. While volunteering may enhance an individual’s skills, CV and contacts, it is unlikely to affect the demand side of the labour market. Furthermore, only a minority of volunteers claim to be motivated by employability related factors. Arguably, the true value of volunteering lies elsewhere.

Angela Ellis Paine, Stephen McKay and Domenico Moro