Volunteering is set to play a vital role in the Covid recovery with a new report quantifying the impact it has on life chances and employment prospects.

  • Volunteering credited with improving job prospects for over half, helping 1 in 3 young volunteers (16-19) get their first job
  • Boosts confidence and communication skills and is a catalyst for education ambition
  • Benefits mid-life work progression and career change
  • Report sets out Blueprint to broaden the appeal of volunteering in order to improve social mobility

The report, Social Mobility: Unleashing the Power of Volunteering, from Royal Voluntary Service, authored by Dr Eddy Hogg, Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Kent set out to explore the potential volunteering has to improve life chances. In a study of current and recent volunteers*, volunteering was credited with improving job prospects for over half (58%), rising to 73% amongst the youngest volunteers (16-19).

For one in ten volunteers, volunteering helped them move from state benefits, unemployment or redundancy into paid work, rising to 14% for those in their twenties and 12% for those in their thirties.

Heather Anderson (37) from Doncaster was a single mum struggling to get off benefits when she began helping out at a Royal Voluntary Service day centre. The skills and experience she gained as a volunteer helped her to get her first paid job.

“I was desperate to find work and make something of my life, but no one would take me on because I had only ever been a full time mum. About six years ago I couldn’t take it anymore. I was in the job centre and spotted a Get Back to Work programme and gave it a go. It started off with volunteering, spending time with people at a local day centre. I realised I actually had a responsibility for the people there, and with that my confidence grew rapidly and I started to believe I was capable of so much more. I also found the people so interesting. I spent six months at the day centre then joined the team that visits people in their homes.

"Two years after I began I finally felt confident enough to apply for a support worker job and I got it. I have never felt so brilliant and haven’t looked back since then. If it wasn’t for my volunteering journey I wouldn’t be where I am. I’m now a support worker for adults in supporting living. It is full on, but I love it – getting to know people and knowing what I can do to make their lives better. It is really satisfying to know that I am making a difference to someone’s life every day.”

Heather Anderson

With UK youth employment badly hit by the pandemic, many younger people say volunteering helped them take the first step onto the career ladder. More than a third (34%) of volunteers in the study aged 16-19, 22% in their twenties and 10% in their thirties report that volunteering helped them get their first job. Once in employment, volunteering supports career progression too, it seems. 23% of working volunteers aged 16-19, 27% in their twenties and 30% in their thirties said that volunteering has helped them get a better job.

Millions of first time volunteers are likely to benefit from the experience as the Covid-19 pandemic has seen unprecedented levels of support for volunteering. A report by the Together Coalition identified 12.4 million people stepped forward to volunteer, 4.6 million of them for the first time***. These include the NHS Volunteer Responders, recruited by Royal Voluntary Service for NHS England to support the NHS and vulnerable people in the community. One in seven (14%) of a sample of 12,000 NHS Volunteer Responders****, believed volunteering improves employment prospects.

“Set against a backdrop of rising unemployment, particularly amongst young people and those over the age of 50, of job uncertainty for many, and of persistent societal inequalities, this positive report identifies that volunteering can be a route to employment, particularly when excellent training and support are available.”

Dr Eddy Hogg, Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Kent and author of the Social Mobility report

Volunteering has far-reaching, positive impacts on personal development too, the study finds. More than a third (38%) of respondents said that volunteering has improved their confidence (38%) and communication skills (39%), rising to 52% (confidence) and 60% (communication skills) amongst the youngest. 41% said volunteering has given them new skills and experience, rising to 65% amongst the youngest.

The employment benefits of volunteering aren’t limited only to the youngest amongst the Social Mobility report’s study respondents. Older volunteers too feel that their job prospects have been enhanced. 35% of those aged 50 and over said their employability improved as a result of their volunteering experience. For 20% of those in their thirties and for nearly as many in their forties (17%), volunteering is seen as a way to retrain or gain experience for a career-change.

More formal skills are developed as well, with 52% of respondents receiving training as part of their volunteering role. 91% of volunteers who have received training feel that it helped them gain new skills which made them more employable. Once again, the youngest cohorts were overwhelmingly more positive about this link, with 100% of 16-19 year olds and 97% of those in their twenties indicating that new skills gained through their volunteer training have boosted their employability.

Volunteering does more than improve job prospects, the report finds, it also acts as a catalyst for education ambitions. 32% of those in the study feel that volunteering has made them want to learn a new skill, of which 65% have gone on to do so. Others have been motivated by their volunteering experience to undertake more formal education. 17% have been inspired to go to university and 11% to college for the first time, and 15% have considered returning to education having left some time before. Of those inspired to pursue formal education as a result of their volunteering experience, around 60% have actually done so. 12% considered retraining in a different field, 47% of which actually did so.

Social Mobility: Unleashing the Power of Volunteering launches as Royal Voluntary Service sets out its commitment to focusing on Covid recovery and to tackling health inequalities and social deprivation. The report highlights that this moment in time, with the lifting of Covid restrictions underway, presents a unique opportunity to reset.

Central to this reset moment is the report’s four-point Blueprint for Volunteering and Social Mobility, a set of guiding principles for voluntary sector organisations and charities, employers and other enablers to unleash volunteering’s superpowers for all:

  1. To find and celebrate the double benefit that volunteering brings both the volunteer and the cause.
  2. To make sure that everyone can experience the benefits of volunteering, particularly under-represented groups who are least likely to engage currently.
  3. To provide clear and specific pathways between volunteering and employment and skills.
  4. To work in partnership, a mutually-invested bond between voluntary sector organisations, businesses and public sector bodies.

“We know from previous research that those with most to gain from volunteering’s benefits – young people, the unemployed and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds - are often currently the least likely to step forward as volunteers. Charity leaders, employers and government must work harder to change this, because communities need volunteers from every part of society in order to thrive.

“As Dr Hogg reports, volunteering has superpowers to help develop skills and confidence, to improve job prospects and transform lives. It’s our belief it can also help in the quest to level up communities. There is no doubt that volunteers have a vital role to play in supporting the COVID recovery and beyond, just as they have during the pandemic. The Blueprint set out in this report is key to unleashing the power of volunteering for all, and Royal Voluntary Service is committed to putting its principles into practice. I look forward to working with fellow charity leaders and others on this important mission.”

Catherine Johnstone CBE, Chief Executive at Royal Voluntary Service

Social Mobility: Unleashing the Power of Volunteering was supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

“We know that volunteering brings a wealth of benefits, both to volunteers themselves and to the individuals and causes that volunteers support, so I’m pleased that players are supporting this work. This new report now gives us a deeper understanding of the importance of volunteering in helping improve social mobility, particularly around employment, which will be so vital in the Covid recovery.”

Laura Chow, Head of Charities, People’s Postcode Lottery

Social Mobility: Unleashing the Power of Volunteering is the second in the Kickstarting a Volunteering Revolution series of research-led reports by Royal Voluntary Service in which leading voluntary sector experts examine the future of volunteering. The first report, First Timers** explored motivations for and barriers to first-time volunteering.

Download a copy of Social Mobility: Unleashing the Power of Volunteering

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