Scotland’s Youth Volunteering – A Great Success Story

3 February 2017

52% of Scotland’s young people volunteered in 2016, nearly double the adult rate of 27%. 

What’s gone right and is there a lesson to draw? 

Mathew Linning _150

Matthew Linning, head of research at Volunteer Scotland discusses the key findings from Volunteer Scotland's latest Young People in Scotland volunteering survey. 

Good news, everyone!

The findings present a really good news story for Scotland’s youth:

  • Youth volunteering has grown very strongly over the last 8 years:
    • 33% in 2009
    • 45% in 2014
    • 52% in 2016
  • A further 21% of non-volunteers would like to volunteer in the future
  • 31% of our young people are also volunteering regularly (at least once/month), which compares to only 17% of adults
  • 49% of young volunteers choose sport or exercise – the most popular category of volunteering 
  • The type of volunteering and its regularity allude to bigger health benefits e.g. combating childhood obesity, better mental health etc.


So what are the real benefits?

There is clear evidence of an increased and more intense engagement by young people but how does volunteering really benefit them? If I were to 'ask the audience' I'm sure most of us would place 'job prospects' at the top of the list.

On one hand we'd be right to make a connection with employment, after all our research tells us that 69% of volunteers 'learn new skills'. However, in (over) focusing on volunteering's role in finding a job, we create unrealistic expectations and also overlook the single biggest benefit - 'having fun'.

We very likely also understate a whole raft of other benefits, including: 'increased confidence', 'feeling happier', 'feeling appreciated', 'feeling part of a team', 'making new friends' and 'feeling I've made a difference'. Incidently, all of which were experienced more often amongst young volunteers than 'improving my job prospects'.

By taking a wider more sophisticated view of the real benefits of volunteering we confer its proven ability to make more rounded, mature, emotionally-intelligent, better connected individuals who feel better about themselves. It's these young people I'd like in the workplace whether or not their volunteering leads directly to a job.             


What's gone right?

Given the very positive findings for young people, what with a participation rate almost double that of adults, are there lessons to be learnt?

To answer this I think we should look at what's gone right for young people. It is clear to me that the growth in youth volunteering (from 33% to 52%) is largely helped by:

  • The influence of teachers and the school environment, combined with the Saltire Awards, Duke of Edinburgh, etc.
  • The importance of family and friends as key ‘influencers’ for young people.
  • Targeted support from organisations such as Project Scotland, Voluntary Action Scotland, the Third Sector Interfaces and The Prince’s Trust, etc.
  • Scottish Government level support for youth volunteering
  • A strong self-interest by young people to build their skills, experience and CV. Particularly in a tightening labour market.

Clearly, some factors would appear unique to youngsters 'preparing' for a career. Once employed the ‘career’ drivers are significantly reduced. Also, there is no teacher influence once out of school and the influence of family members also declines as young people mature. 

However, it is clear that there has also been a significant amount of targeted support to influence young people to volunteer, through awards, bespoke programmes, etc. This support tends to fall into two categories: those still in school and those who have left school and are not in employment, education or training.

Therefore, perhaps there is a case for more policy interest and funding to support an increase in adult volunteering. We know that the benefits can be far reaching and the impacts profound especially for those who are the most disadvantaged in society. 

Targeted support for volunteering has worked for young people, why not for the adults of Scotland as well?

Matthew Linning

Head of Research, Volunteer Scotland

Further information

This research was undertaken on Volunteer Scotland’s behalf by Ipsos-Mori and involved a self-completion questionnaire completed in school time across 52 state secondary schools in Scotland. The detailed results are available from here and the summary results here.

Volunteer Scotland would welcome feedback on the research findings and engagement on youth volunteering more generally. Please contact Matthew Linning or Gemma Jackson (01786 479593)