The role that volunteering does, and has greater potential to, play over a person’s working life and in the development of the workforce is not widely appreciated. While employment is not always the final destination for volunteers, volunteering is often a pathway to employment. Volunteering can also support upskilling and reskilling for career transition, and facilitate the move into retirement through healthy aging and retaining connectedness to community and society.
While it was agreed that there is no useful definition of ‘young’ and ‘old’, the focus of the contribution from Dr Julie Connolly (Brotherhood of St Laurence) was on younger people and the focus of the talk from Professor Philip Taylor (Federation University) was about older people. The discussion was moderated by Dr Dimitrios Salampasis (Swinburne University of Technology). 30 Volunteer managers and academics attended the research roundtable held in Geelong.
The following is a snapshot of the discussion.
Dr. Dimitrios Salampasis, Lecturer of Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Observations from the moderator:
- It is a big challenge to attract young people to volunteer and gain career-driven experience
- There should be wider recognition of volunteer work as a professional working experience, along with, recognition of the skills and capabilities gained during the volunteer work
- There are measurement issues when it comes to performance and career readiness that we should be aware of
- There could be training curricula for volunteers in line with the skills required by the industry and marketplace
- We need to educate HR and corporate functions on the importance of voluntary work.
Professor Philip Taylor, Professor of Human Resource Management
Challenging assumptions and key issues relating to older people:
- There is a trend during mass layoffs in major economic structural adjustment, such as in the Hazelwood closure, for older workers to be encouraged and/or implicitly pressured to retire early (to make way for younger workers).
- Society’s broader agenda for ‘active ageing’ will have implications for volunteering.
- Volunteering provides a big opportunity to give meaning and identity to older people.
- There is no good, consistent age concept or definition ‘older’, it generally refers to a group of people who are ‘older than another group’.
- There is a focus on ‘productivism’ – encouraging older people to ‘contribute’ to society, often older peoples’ existing contributions and forms of participation in society are overlooked.
- The pending ‘crisis of ageing’ discourse is likely overblown.
- Some research literature is finding that working older is not necessarily better for us.
- Retirement is often conceived as someone not pulling their own weight and a retiree is thought of as a dependent.
- There have been recent, unsuccessful, efforts to push the age of retirement to 70.
- Rates of employment for old people are going up, particularly for women.
- The average age of primary careers is 55. Their contribution to the economy is uncosted.
- We don’t support older people into retirement the way we support young people into their careers. We need to start thinking of the phases and ways we support older people through their ‘retirement careers’’.
- We should consider national participation targets for older people.
- We need to expand the definition of productivity.
Dr Julie Connolly – Brotherhood of St Laurence
Notes on younger people and key socioeconomic trends relating to volunteering:
- Focus of the talk is young people.
- There is also no definition of younger people.
- Need to be clear about where the boundaries are for volunteering to avoid young people being exploited. What are the boundaries when a young person is doing a quasi-internship?
- Need to consider what structures enable people to participate.
- In the late 19th century it was understood that unemployment is cyclical. The male breadwinner model no longer applies. Is volunteering a solution to these and other issues around a changing economy? No, it would be a problem if volunteering was subordinated to the economy. Volunteering should stand for something in itself.
- We can structure our society to work better for us. Urban design planners are now restructuring society for convivial encounters for people who don’t know one another, e.g. cafes on city streets, dog parks and so on.
- Brotherhood of St Laurance wants to work with young people, not on young people. Want young people to be doing it for themselves.
- Society has moved away from ‘liminality’ – coming of age traditions.
- We are starting to understand that capabilities, vulnerabilities and hardship are not about the person but often the circumstances we create around them. Having a disability is only disabling if we structure things to be difficult for those people, riding a train can be structured to be impossible or easy for a person with a disability.
Walsh, L., & Black, R. (2015). Youth volunteering in Australia: An evidence review. Report prepared for the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth. Canberra: ARACY.
Available online at: https://www.aracy.org.au/publications-resources/area?command=record&id=208 
Marijke Fotia and Barb Hebb
Observations from the practitioners’ point of view:
- Marijke’s career path was through volunteering – a volunteer at an arts festival, a volunteer coordinator and then a volunteer manager.
- Primary motivating factor for younger people is skill development.
- Older people stay around for longer, which generally means more return for investment.
- There is a risk that organisations become pseudo employment services, we can’t fill all the needs of volunteers.
- Young people good to recruit, they bring fresh thinking but there are resourcing implications.
- Administration takes away from active engagement with volunteers.
- Bite-sized volunteering good but requires more management to alight with what the volunteers are looking for.
Question & Answer Session
Open discussion from the floor:
- Challenge with application and demonstrating outcomes.
- Organisations looking for funding can have purpose drift – e.g. soup kitchen should be about feeding people, not showing funding bodies that they could lower diabetes rates.
- The difference between generations can be exaggerated and there are incentives for commentators to talk up the differences between generations. The different generations have more in common than they have differences.
- If we increase working age, where are we going to get volunteers from? There might not be a huge reservoir of aged people.
- Because of modern social and economic pressures, older people are now needing to care for younger people more (e.g. parents have large mortgages and childcare is expensive)
- Sector needs advocacy work to get more funding for volunteer management, guidance on writing grant applications.
- Organisations need to be cognisant that there are many highly skilled migrants who want to volunteer but face barriers to participate.
- Need to be careful as student placements, Centrelink, Work for the Dole are putting people into volunteer programs but they aren’t volunteers and the organisations are not resourced to accommodate them.