Understanding the Capacity of Youth in the Volunteering Context
Not-for-profit organisations have the opportunity to tap into the special skills and unique mindset that young people can bring as volunteers today. Youth in the new generations are fuelled with creativity, adaptability, and technological skills. The Centre for Volunteering’s previous Macquarie University social research intern Maria Taftgaard Pederson reviewed research on the particular skills and attributes of young people. Miriam Wyatt, The Centre’s current CAPA intern and a volunteer with Amigos de las Americas, presents some of the findings in this article and encourages readers to think about how these can be applied in the volunteering context.
Are quick learners and enjoy a challenge
The youth currently entering the workforce are called Generation Y, birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the 2000s. In her article “Brace Yourself Here Comes Generation Y,” Judith Lower (2008) describes “Y’ers” as “highly adaptable and adept at multitasking” and “progressive thinkers, able to process information quickly.” At the age of adolescence, the brain is at the highest capacity to learn (National Institute of Mental Health, 2011). Lower (2008) goes on to write that young people are “eager to embrace change, they’re constantly looking for new approaches and seeking the next challenge. They also have high standards and excel at teamwork.”
Embrace leadership opportunities
Youth volunteers are a generation of leaders who rise to meet challenges, manage projects, solve problems, and openly accept responsibility. Jane Norman (2001), from the group Advocates for Youth, reports in her research on “Building effective youth-adult partnerships” that “sharing with youth the power to make decisions means adults’ respecting and having confidence in young people’s judgment. It means adults’ recognizing youth’s assets, understanding what the youth will bring to the partnership, and being willing to provide additional training and support when youth need it (just as when including other adults in making decisions).” By encouraging young people’s capabilities as such, youth are more inclined and motivated to participate and continue on as volunteers.
Have technological skills
Engaging youth volunteers in assisting with technology can be very beneficial as their generation is growing up in the digital age and have an almost innate understanding of the online world. Youth have a natural ease and adaptability with technology that “can help make the workplace better and more technologically advanced” (Lower, 2008). Youth can be engaged at an organisational level in sharing their knowledge of current technological and online trends, or even teaching certain skills.
Bring new perspectives
Young people are often creative and have the ability to think ‘outside the box.’ They can bring new insights and opinions to programs, projects, websites, social media, and more. Engaging youth volunteers in reflective thinking and asking them for their opinions on how they would improve things throughout their volunteer experience is potential for progression and innovation.
We recognise that there are challenges and barriers, both perceived and actual, associated with youth volunteering. Frequently asked questions often touch on: organisational culture, supervision, insurance, risk management, role suitability and availability. Youth have particular skills or interests, it is important that the role they take on as a volunteer is in line with their goals as well as the organisation’s goals. Youth are usually in school or TAFE/university and have busy schedules with competing priorities. It may be difficult for them to balance their schedules to fit the availability of the organisation.
Youth volunteers are already some of the brightest, well equipped individuals as shown by their generational characteristics. By embracing them as volunteers in organisations, guiding and training them appropriately, it further develops them into well-rounded, community-minded young professionals.
With all this in mind, the question is not “why engage youth volunteers?” but “why not?” In the long run your organisation will thank you for championing youth volunteering.
Please contact us with your successful youth volunteer engagement stories or at to ask questions/discuss youth volunteering issues: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lower, J. (2008). Brace yourself here comes generation Y. Critical Care Nurse, 28. Retrieved from http://ccn.aacnjournals.org/content/28/5/80.full.pdf?q=generation-y
Norman, J. (2001). Building effective youth-adult partnerships. Advocates for Youth: Transitions, 14. Retrieved from http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/storage/advfy/documents/transitions1401.pdf
National Institute of Mental Health (2011). The teen brain: Still under construction. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-teen-brain-still-under-construction/teen-brain.pdf