Charities should be wary of encouraging young people to volunteer on the basis that it will help them get jobs, according to a new publication by the Third Sector Research Centre.
Working-class Girls and Youth Social Action: 'Hope Labour'? questions the assumption that volunteering enhances the prospects of employment or a university place.
Emma Taylor-Collins, the author and a PhD researcher at the TSRC, was previously a researcher at Step Up To Serve, the charity behind the #iwill campaign, which encourages 10 to 20-year-olds to get involved with social action.
Taylor-Collins said reaching out to young women from poor backgrounds was one of the campaign’s biggest challenges.
Her TSRC research focused on asking 17 girls aged between 16 and 18 from low-income backgrounds in London why they got involved in social action, such as volunteering, caring and unpaid internships.
Many said they did so because they were told they would gain experiences that would help them stand out from others in the job market.
"Crucially, however, none of this can guarantee success," writes Taylor-Collins, who describes this type of volunteering as a form of "hope labour": social action being carried out in the hope that it will result in a successful future.
"If certain types of social action are framed instrumentally in this way, what does that mean for the way that these girls will think about social action in future, when it is no longer considered useful for their career success?" the paper asks.
"And how does that affect the importance the girls place on other forms of social action that are not framed in that way?"
Taylor-Collins told Third Sector organisations that encouraged volunteering as a way into work were not trying to "dupe" young people, but they ought to "reflect on the language and messages they use".
She urged organisations seeking young volunteers to promote the "wider messages about social action rather than just focusing on employability".
Shaun Delaney, volunteering development manager at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said it was a "great paper digging into the some of the issues affecting young people".
Delaney said volunteering should be about "options rather than obligations" and he welcomed the move away from unpaid internships in the sector.
But he questioned the extent to which young people were motivated to volunteer for career or university purposes.
"Young people, as much as any others, get involved with volunteering because they believe in a cause or have an affiliation with it," he said.