Youth voluntary work and skills development

This research project examines learning and skills development among young people between the ages of 16 and 25 who are involved in voluntary work. The baseline assumption is that voluntary work offers an ideal means of observing the learning process and the informal development of skills among young people involved in such activities. What we find particularly interesting in this context is the fact that the main motivating factor is neither income nor grades.

Rido / Fotolia

Research is being conducted in two phases. The first phase entails analysis of the conditions favouring  learning within a context of voluntary work. We understand conditions as the resources that the structure is able to offer young people (e.g. support or technical environment) and the factors that motivate young people to become involved in voluntary work.

The second phase involves specific observation of the types of skills developed while carrying out volunteering activities. The aim is to identify these skills and enhance them so that they can be transferred to other contexts and fields (professional, training).

Research questions:

  • What factors motivate young people to become involved in voluntary work?
  • What learning processes are set in motion in volunteering settings and what training conditions are needed to ensure learning?
  • What kinds of skills are developed by young people who do voluntary work?
  • How can young people be made more explicitly aware of the skills that they have developed so that these skills can be linked to a training or a professional project?

The target group for this research project is comprised of:

  • Young volunteers between the ages of 16-25 who are undergoing training, are in between jobs/training, or entering working life for the first time
  • Non-profit organisations that hire young volunteers. These organisations are structured to a greater or lesser extent and pursue different aims (sports, humanitarian activities, events planning, youth mentoring, etc.)

Our theoretical framework is built on research done in relation to activity analysis, workplace learning (WPL), social and cultural approaches to learning as well as various sociological and ethnographic currents (sociology of voluntary work, identity and socialisation, ethnosociology of young people).


This qualitative research has a grounded theory approach. The first phase of the research project is based on around forty semi-structured interviews with young volunteers. These interviews will then be entirely transcribed, encoded and analysed using software-based content analysis tool NVivo©.

The second phase of the research project will be in the form of community workshops designed to identify and explain the skills that groups of young people have acquired through voluntary work. This will give rise to a collective portfolio.