Why youth volunteerism is a significant opportunity to make young South Africans more employable

The sheer number of volunteers and volunteer hours in South Africa suggests an important opportunity to upskill youth.  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 .

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 are 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 them.  This kind of volunteerism demonstrates qualities of commitment and civic-mindedness on the part of young people – important attributes of prospective employees.

Benefits for prospective employers:

  • Volunteering requires a great deal of commitment without remuneration. Young people who complete such placements demonstrate unique dedication and are worth considering for employment.
  • Volunteers are often working in organisations that are at the forefront of grappling with complex social issues. Such a work environment requires constant innovation and young people who are able to thrive clearly demonstrate a capacity for out-of-the-box thinking.
  • The programmes profiled in this article spend a great deal of time getting to know and mentoring their volunteers. Volunteers receive extensive psychosocial support and ‘soft skills’ training and are thus starting from a solid foundation when they begin to seek employment.

Benefits for social development initiatives and organisations:

  • Because of their focus on vulnerable youth who are not in employment, education or training, volunteer programmes are often drawing young people from the communities in which many civil society organisations work.  Rather than positioning these young people as passive recipients of the work of civil society, such initiatives foster and encourage the agency of the young people in these communities.  They are, after all, the most intimately acquainted with challenges of these communities.
  • By hosting volunteers, organisations are training and nurturing their own workforce and potential successors and leaders of civil society.

Volunteers are also likely to bring new ideas and innovations to address complex social problems.

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