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How volunteering helps students to develop soft skills


It is widely recognised that tertiary education does not provide all of the knowledge and skills required to succeed in modern societies. Personal and interpersonal skills – so-called “soft skills” – are also needed to complement professional skills and expertise, and become an essential part of an individual’s personality. One way of acquiring soft skills is volunteering with associations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). This paper discusses the involvement of French third-level students in voluntary activities and the skills they acquire as a result. The author presents the findings of a study involving a questionnaire and semi-structured interviews. Results show that many students develop skills linked to their future professional career, that they reflect on this consciously and feel enriched by the experience. The author argues that “non-professional” activities like volunteering can be actively incorporated into students’ learning process, making their overall experience of higher education more active, enjoyable and relevant. Learning through action was found to be the most important factor in the acquisition of soft skills. This article aims to contribute to research on the educational dimension of volunteering, demonstrating that it benefits both personal and professional development.


Comment le bénévolat aide les étudiants à acquérir des aptitudes générales (soft skills) – Il est communément admis que l’enseignement supérieur ne transmet pas toutes les connaissances et compétences nécessaires pour réussir dans les sociétés modernes. Les qualités humaines et capacités relationnelles, appelées aussi aptitudes générales ou savoir-être, sont également nécessaires pour compléter les compétences et l’expertise professionnelles et faire partie intégrante de la personnalité de l’individu. Un moyen d’acquérir ce savoir-être consiste à s’engager bénévolement dans des associations ou organisations non gouvernementales. Cet article analyse l’engagement des étudiants français dans des activités bénévoles et les compétences que celles-ci leur apportent. L’auteure présente les résultats d’une étude de recherche impliquant un questionnaire et des entrevues semi-structurées. Les résultats révèlent que de nombreux étudiants développent des compétences liées à leur future carrière professionnelle, qu’ils en sont conscients et se sentent enrichis par cette expérience. L’auteure propose d’intégrer activement des activités « non professionnelles » telles que le bénévolat dans le processus d’apprentissage des étudiants, pour rendre leur expérience universitaire générale plus active, plus agréable et plus pertinente. L’apprentissage par l’action s’est révélé être le facteur principal dans l’acquisition du savoir-être. L’auteure vise à contribuer à la recherche sur la dimension éducative du bénévolat, illustrant que celui-ci profite au développement tant personnel que professionnel.

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  1. 1.

    According to the Economic and Social Council (1993; Cheroutre 1989), a volunteer is “any person who engages freely to take non-employed action for the benefit of others, outside his [or her] professional and family time.”

  2. 2.

    By “community service” I mean service civil, a largely state-funded programme in France which aims to promote citizenship and solidarity and facilitate the social and professional integration of young people through various tasks benefiting members of local communities.

  3. 3.

    The objective of “Field of action 7: Volunteering” in the EU Strategy for Youth (EC 2009) is to “support youth volunteering, by developing more voluntary opportunities for young people, making it easier to volunteer by removing obstacles, raising awareness on the value of volunteering, recognising volunteering as an important form of non-formal education and reinforcing cross-border mobility of young volunteers (EC 2009, p. 10).

  4. 4.

    All citations from French sources were translated by the author of this article.

  5. 5.

    Though Guy Le Boterf finds attitudes to be resources rather than competences in their combinatorial approach to competence (Le Boterf 2000, p. 62).

  6. 6.

    The study, which formed the basis of my PhD thesis (Khasanzyanova 2015), was carried out in French. For the purposes of this article, I have translated all participants’ responses presented here into English.

  7. 7.

    Their respective focus of engagement is shown in Table 1.

  8. 8.

    Final exam at the end of secondary school in France.

  9. 9.

    Second or third year of higher education (Bachelor’s degree).

  10. 10.

    Fourth or fifth year of higher education (Master’s degree).

  11. 11.

    The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), first introduced in Europe in 1989, is designed to make it easier for students to move between different countries. Students can transfer their ECTS credits from one university to another so they are added up to contribute to their degree.


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Correspondence to Albina Khasanzyanova.

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Khasanzyanova, A. How volunteering helps students to develop soft skills. Int Rev Educ 63, 363–379 (2017).

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  • Volunteering
  • Soft skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Career
  • Personal development