High school dropouts: Volunteering boosts job chances

Volunteers without high school diplomas increase their chances of getting a job by 51 percent. Jobless high school dropouts, please take note.

The employment consequences of leaving high school are lasting and ghastly. In June, according to the U.S. Labor Department, the unemployment rate for people older than 25 who did not have a high school diploma was 10.7 percent, compared to the national rate overall of 7.6 percent. And that doesn't even factor in the dreadful unemployment rate for young people, ages 16 to 19, who want work, but can't find it. One in four of them are jobless and no doubt, many are dropouts, given the age.

The statistic comes from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a federal agency charged with increasing volunteerism and service. It undertook a study to gauge the influence of volunteerism on employment. It found that volunteering increases the odds of getting employment by 27 percent overall. It improves the odds for everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, job market or geographic area. An infographic lays out the case.

“Many of us in the volunteer sector have long felt volunteering gives a boost to those looking for work, but we've never had solid research to back it up,” Wendy Spencer, chief executive of CNCS, said in a press release announcing the report. “This report provides a definitive answer – volunteers are more likely to find work than non-volunteers. Volunteering can help job seekers develop skills and expand professional contacts, creating a positive impression that can make a big difference in a competitive job market.”

But why is it so helpful for high school dropouts?

“This research suggests that people with limited skills or social connections – particularly those without a high school education – may see an extra benefit to volunteering as a way to open doors and level the playing field,” Dr. Christopher Spera, director of evaluation and research at CNCS, said in the announcement. 

Prior research has shown that volunteering can increase a person’s social connections and professional contacts (social capital) and skills and experiences (human capital), two factors that are positively related to employment outcomes. In addition, some workers may see volunteering as a possible entry route into a new field or organization where they would like to work, the organization said.

These days, so much hiring is done by computer and the computer can simply trash an application based on a box about education without any consideration of a person's skills or talents. In a volunteer situation, educational background is often immaterial. What fellow volunteers and managers see is talent, skills, compassion, creativity, ingenuity, work ethic. And, if someone knows about a job, there is now a reason, based on what that person has seen the volunteer actually do, to offer a wholehearted and enthusiastic job recommendation. That kind of recommendation can overcome other barriers, such as the lack of diploma.

There are other advantages. Poverty often leaves people isolated. Strategic volunteering -- helping where you can make contacts and learn new skills -- can provide a window into a wider world. And, there is the psychological benefit and lift to self-esteem provided by helping others, so important in today's tough climate.