The Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has released its latest report The Social and Economic Sustainability of WA’s Rural Volunteer Workforce.  The Centre?s core mission to delivery high quality, accessible research that enhances the understanding of key economic and social issues that contribute to the wellbeing of West Australian families, businesses and communities.  Despite its focus on Western Australian rural communities, this research report indicates that key findings apply across Australia.

A summary of the reports findings are as follows:

Introduction (Extract)

Volunteering is essential to ensure the viability of Australia?s rural communities. In many parts of rural Australia, essential services are delivered by volunteers and only by volunteers. For many communities, there is simply no alternative to volunteer provided services. Volunteer involving activities also underpin community wellbeing through the networks and social connections that they create. Without volunteers, the social, economic and environmental sustainability of rural communities would be seriously compromised.

The ageing of the rural population, coupled with an overall slow rate of population growth, presents challenges for both volunteer supply and demand.

Executive Report (Extract)

Volunteering is critical to the survival and success of rural communities in Western Australia (WA). The past two decades have seen an increase in the community services delivered by volunteers and demand on the volunteer workforce has intensified. Yet, according to data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) over the same period there has been a decline in volunteer participation across Australia, resulting in a shortage of volunteer labour.

 Key Findings (Extract)

The volunteering landscape in rural Western Australia

  • Rural Western Australians have a very high rate of involvement in local volunteer activities, with more than 50% of the population engaged in local volunteering.
  • The most numerous volunteer involving activities are sport and emergency services.
  • Volunteers become and remain involved in volunteering because they believe it is integral to the survival of the community.

The value of rural volunteering

  • Volunteer participation is linked to social wellbeing, with those engaged in volunteering more likely to be happy with their sense of community.

Challenges faced by rural volunteer involving organisations

  • Volunteer involving organisations report that increases in regulation impact negatively on volunteer participation.

 The social and economic sustainability of WA’s rural volunteer workforce

  • Volunteer involving organisations require increased certainty regarding funding schemes, particularly related to longer term initiatives.

Challenges faced by individual volunteers

  • Volunteer burnout is a major risk facing rural volunteer organisations.
  • The workload created by volunteering activities can be a major source of stress for individual volunteers, particularly those volunteers managing multiple volunteering commitments.
  • Volunteers are primarily responsible for succession planning, which is finding someone else to take on their volunteer role(s).

There is a need to develop data driven strategies to support rural volunteering

  • Few volunteer involving organisations have strategic plans. An audit of the legislative and public policy framework affecting rural volunteering is required to guide and support volunteer involving organisations develop strategic plans.

 The extracts noted above point to significant research work which has been collected, assessed and reported in this comprehensive baseline study.  As expected the Report details findings and conclusions with advice and recommendations for Government, volunteer-involving organisations, and future research recommendations.

Read the Full Report here.

The Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre is an independent economic and social research organisation located within the Curtin Business School at Curtin University. The Centre was established in 2012 with support from Bankwest, a division of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. The Centre?s core mission to delivery high quality, accessible research that enhances our understanding of key economic and social issues that contribute to the wellbeing of West Australian families, businesses and communities.