From education to employment

New research highlights lack of volunteering opportunities and patchy citizenship education 

A rapid evidence review from the Institute for Community Studies, commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), publishes today, explores young people’s experiences of, and attitudes to, volunteering.

Through research with 650 11- to 30-year-olds around the UK, the report finds a lack of volunteering opportunity in some regions, patchy citizenship education, and an outdated, short-term view of why young people engage in volunteering. These are revealed as key factors hindering sustained and meaningful engagement in unpaid work. 

Calling for a new approach

The findings suggest a new approach is needed, supporting young people to shape their own ‘Volunteering Journey’ over time. A more flexible, hybrid approach would allow individuals to choose voluntary work that reflect their interests, causes they care about, their life experiences, and the opportunities available to them in their geographical location.  

The report highlights a need to establish a common language for youth volunteering; a need to support all young people to understand, navigate, and participate in volunteering; and a need to recognise that each young person’s background and circumstances is critical in influencing attitudes to – and frequency of – volunteering. 

Citizenship ‘lacks impact’

The review exposes a ‘postcode lottery’, with the average net expenditure on youth services reportedly £62 per head in urban areas, compared to £47 per head in rural areas. Opportunities to volunteer are therefore offered inconsistently between regions, education institutions, and workplaces – and location powerfully determines if and how young people are supported to volunteer. 

The findings also suggest the citizenship curriculum lacks impact. Among 125 reflections from young people on what sparked their engagement with volunteering, just one mentioned citizenship education.  

Another concern is the ‘triple burden’, with young people balancing volunteering with paid work, social and family commitments, and their own mental health.

Maximise the benefits to young people’ 

Emily Morrison, Head of the Institute for Community Studies, says: “The hybrid ways in which young people participate in volunteering, their motivations for engaging with it, and the ‘triple burden’ barriers they face, have changed significantly over the years. We need to develop policies and support frameworks that acknowledge and respond to this, if we are to grow a sustained volunteering base for the future – and if we are to maximise the benefits of volunteering to young people as individuals, to their local communities, and to society more broadly.” 

Overall, the report calls for a greater emphasis on young people’s agency in shaping their own volunteering pathways, and an integrated approach that increases the impact of young people’s volunteering experiences by linking programmes and initiatives together.  

Read the report and explore the Institute for Community Studies’ work supporting young people to reimagine their civic engagement  

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