Volunteering as a way to prepare youth for work

Volunteering as a way to
prepare youth for work


Voluntary work is often seen as a ‘soft’ option – something that NGOs and charities do, with little recognition of its economic value. The sheer number of volunteers and volunteer hours in South Africa, however, speaks to an important opportunity that can be used to a number of ends. We think that a particularly valuable one is upskilling young people.

Statistics South Africa reports that there were 2.2 million volunteers in 2014.  The 610.4 million volunteer hours contributed in 2014, were equivalent to about 293 000 full-time jobs.[1]www.gov.za/speeches/statistics-south-africa-increase-volunteers

It is not only an opportunity that civil society should act on. There is also a business case to be made for companies to support youth volunteerism. Businesses thrive when societies thrive. The stability of communities influences the stability of markets and the growth of market opportunities.[2]Strassburg, S. 2011. How can companies foster volunteer action for development in the SADC region? South Africa’s youth unemployment rate of approximately 75% for young people between 15 and 34 years old,[3]Expanded definition of unemployment.  STATS SA. 2016. Vulnerable Groups Series I: the social profile of youth, 2009-2014. does not bode well for stable communities or markets – not to mention the human potential going to waste that could drive the economy forward. 


“The French economist Thomas Piketty has helped clarify the historically fractious relationship between economic growth and social development. Think of the two as a grumpy old couple – suspicious of each other’s intent, but unable to do without one another. Without economic growth, social development will fail because public goods must be financed through taxation. Without social development, economic growth will flounder because there will be insufficient human capital to push an advanced economy, and because social instability will undermine business confidence and investment.”

Dr. David Harrison,
CEO – DG Murray Trust



Why there’s more value in youth volunteerism than meets the eye

Doing voluntary work carries a number of benefits – for the volunteers themselves, for the organisation hosting them, and for prospective employers of young people who have volunteered.

Volunteers get an opportunity to explore and better understand their passions and strengths before they proceed into the world of work. They may be exposed to professional, goal-driven and teamwork-oriented environments. And, if they volunteer in the NGO sector, they learn about some of the country’s most pressing social issues, and how programmes are being developed to address these. This kind of volunteerism demonstrates  commitment and civic-mindedness on the part of young people – important attributes that employers look for in new recruits

  • If you are a prospective employer of a young South African who has volunteered, read here to see what you can look forward to.
  • If you are a civil society organisation/initiative that is considering hosting volunteers, read here to see how your organisation can benefit.

“Young people are disengaged because of a sense of powerlessness and irrelevance as opposed to apathy or disinterest. Overcoming these requires access to opportunities for participation as individuals, as well as a generation. Young peoples’ sense of efficacy increases when they are connected to issues that matter, and key civic actors and institutions are encouraged to see young people as valuable resources.”

(South African National Youth Commission)


How can we use volunteering to prepare young people for entry into the world of work?

More specifically, how can non-profit organisations or community initiatives create and structure volunteer posts that contribute meaningfully to the developmental work of the organisation, while at the same time effectively preparing young people for future employment?

And how can for-profit companies support these efforts?

Action Volunteers Africa

Action Volunteers Africa (AVA) and the Good Work Foundation (GWF) are two of a very small number of organisations using the time young people spend volunteering as an opportunity to prepare them for the working world.  We spoke to them about key aspects that can ensure successful volunteer-to-work transitions to inform our articles.

Good Work Foundation


1 www.gov.za/speeches/statistics-south-africa-increase-volunteers
2 Strassburg, S. 2011. How can companies foster volunteer action for development in the SADC region?
3 Expanded definition of unemployment.  STATS SA. 2016. Vulnerable Groups Series I: the social profile of youth, 2009-2014.