In preparation for #Iwillweek, Professor Tristram Hooley discusses the evidence on young people’s volunteering

Young people are motivated by doing something to help others, to improve their community or to provide support for those less fortunate than themselves. Because of this lots of schools make opportunities available to young people to engage in volunteering and other forms of social action including participation in sports clubs.

Schools are part of their community, so they are keen to make a different to those around them. Of course they are also motivated by the fact that participating in volunteering can be a brilliant way to develop the skills, attitudes and self-belief of young people.

In a new review of research on volunteering conducted by The Careers & Enterprise Company, we have found good evidence that volunteering can have a significant and observable impact on young people’s skills and their preparedness for their career. Because of this we believe that young people should be encouraged to volunteer and that schools have an important role in helping them to do this.

The evidence provides us with six clear lessons that schools can use to make sure that they support young people to make the most of their volunteering experiences.

1. Talk about volunteering

Firstly, it is really important that schools expose young people to volunteering and talk about the benefits associated with it. Encouraging young people to consider volunteering or even building some taster sessions into the school day can be powerful motivators.

If you don’t help young people to volunteer, most of them probably won’t do it

2. Provide access to opportunities

Secondly, schools have a critical role in brokering young people’s involvement in volunteering. Research by the National Youth Social Action Survey found that over two thirds (69 per cent) of young people who got involved in volunteering did it through their school, college or university. So, the message is clear, if you don’t help young people to volunteer, most of them probably won’t do it.

3. Commit for the long-haul

Thirdly, the evidence suggests that volunteering is most impactful when young people volunteer over an extended period. One-day events can be motivating and help to engage young people, but if you really want to see the benefits from volunteering you need to get involved for the long haul. Encouraging young people to stick with their volunteering, even when it is difficult, is a key learning opportunity.

It also means that the organisations that host volunteers are likely to continue to want to work with your school. No one wants to host volunteers who disappear after five minutes.

4. Support and follow-up with pupils

This leads onto our fourth tip, which is that young people need to be supported when they are volunteering. It is important that when you are setting up volunteering placements you figure out how volunteers will be managed and supported and are clear on the balance of responsibility between the host organisation and the school.

5. Give them closure

A key part of managing a volunteer placement is captured in our fifth tip – you’ve got to think about when it is going to end and how you are going to end it well. Placements need a clearly defined beginning and end. Hopefully some young people will want to keep volunteering after this point, but it is better to have a managed ending than letting things peter out.

6. Debrief

Finally, our sixth tip is to make sure that there is an opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved through the volunteering opportunity. Spending time debriefing and thinking about what has happened is critical. Young people need to be encouraged to celebrate what they have achieved for the organisation that they have worked with and given the opportunity to consider how they have grown and what they have learnt.

These six lessons are based on the best evidence available on volunteering. If you follow them you will ensure maximum impact for the school, for young people and for the wider community that your students are volunteering in.

Professor Tristram Hooley is director of research at The Careers & Enterprise Company