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Social action: it's about helping each other… in more ways than you think

Student Volunteering Week is upon us, and it’s got us thinking how much being socially aware means to our young people. According to a recent survey, it seems a great deal. Findings show that the proportion of 16-24 year-olds saying they volunteer has increased by more than half in recent years, which is a drastic rise based on historic data.

Beyond volunteering, within the space of using action to drive positive change, there is much that our country’s young people are increasingly engaging with. It’s only as a whole do we see the benefits that this range of activity can have, which is why I’d like to focus more broadly on social action, the grandparent, if you will, of volunteering. Why, you may ask?

Campaigning for a cause close to their heart, fundraising, even making personal ethical choices or setting up their own community projects – we appear to be undergoing a huge revival of social engagement in its many wonderful forms. Notwithstanding the obvious humanitarian benefits, this is important on an economic level, when we consider the challenging current labour market for young people and research showing that social action can bolster youth employment by nearly 30%.

Given the facts, it’s clear that young participants are not the sole beneficiaries of social action. Quite the opposite, it offers a '360 of benefits' for business, educator and youth audiences.

Busting business benefits
There is no doubt that employers place high value on the character, skills and values that involvement in social action can develop in candidates. According to the BCC Workforce Survey, 76% of businesses quote a lack of experience as the primary reason young people are unprepared for work. This is often compounded by a gap in schools' provision of local work experience opportunities, substantiated by the same study showing that just over half (52%) of companies currently offer no work experience. This means that in many instances, demand is massively outweighing supply.

Principals and principles
Social action offers a number of ways to effectively prepare students for the world of work: firstly, by filling any gaps left by a shortfall in work experience placements with other valuable opportunities. The #iwill campaign alone has over 700 business, education and voluntary sector partners that it can connect schools and individuals to, however less than half of young people are getting involved in these opportunities. This makes social action a largely untapped resource that supports schools in boosting students' aspirations and experience.

Not only this, it can also offer fantastic whole-school benefits, developing young people's values in line with a school's core ethos and principles. As Simon Beck, Assistant Principal at Lister School told us, it offers “countless opportunities for student leadership and boosts their confidence. It’s benefitted our school by reflecting our core values in students who are selfless and compassionate.”

The kids are alright
Social action allows young people to have social purpose and make a difference, to find new ways to fill their spare time, to discover new interests, projects and even prospects. Participants are given the chance to socialise, forge new friendship groups and learn valuable transferable skills, like communication, leadership and creative problem solving. With a positive attitude, young people are undoubtedly better disposed to translate their skills and experience into positive change.

The proof is in the numbers too. An #iwill survey found that 90% of young people who have taken part in youth social action said that it’s helped them develop useful skills for the future, and 75% reporting that it made them feel more confident in securing a job. It even found that 22% said it helped reduce anxiety, which is not to be overlooked given the crisis facing so many teens today.

Despite all these benefits, we can’t overlook the challenges that inhibit this positive change. For one, schools are often hard-pressed for time, and with a panoply of other challenges to deal with, it's unsurprising and understandable that organising a volunteering scheme is not top of every school's agenda. Let's also recall that there are 11.7% NEET young people in this country, who in many instances are harder to reach and sometimes less likely to be in positions to pursue social action opportunities.

Let’s sum up with a silver lining: it’s clear that if the link between businesses, young people and schools grows, so will a workforce of young people who feel prepared, empowered and energised to make a difference. And not just to themselves, but to their economy and their communities too. Much in the spirit of social action, it really is about everyone helping each other.

About the author

Hannah Furrer

Hannah has risen up the ranks from intern to where she is now, and hasn’t looked back since! She supports the running of Shell’s schools’ STEM programme The Bright Ideas Challenge, as well as LifeSkills created with Barclays and loves how her role allows her to see the real and meaningful impact these projects can have on individuals and communities.

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