Skip to main content


Log in

How volunteering helps students to develop soft skills

  • Original Paper
  • Published:
International Review of Education Aims and scope Submit manuscript


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


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

  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. 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. Their respective focus of engagement is shown in Table 1.

  8. Final exam at the end of secondary school in France.

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

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

  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.


  • Akoun, A., & Ansart, P. (1999). Dictionnaire de sociologie. Collection dictionnaires le robert/seuil (Dictionary of sociology). Paris: Le Robert/Seuil.

    Google Scholar 

  • Archambault, E., & Tchernonog, V. (2012). Quelques repères sur les associations en France aujourd’hui (A few benchmarks concerning associations in France today) (online document). Paris: Centre d’Economie de la Sorbonne (CNRS), Université de Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. Retrieved 11 May 2017 from

  • Aubret, J. & Gilbert, P. (1997). Psychologie de la ressource humaine [Psychology of human resources]. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France (PUF).

  • Barth, I., & Géniaux, I. (2010). Former les futurs managers à des compétences qui n’existent pas: les jeux de simulation de gestion comme vecteur d’apprentissage (Training future managers with competences that do not exist: management simulation games as a learning vehicle). Revue Management & Avenir, 6(36), 316–339.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boudrias, J.-C., & Morin, D. (2011). Démystifier les inventaires de personnalité (Demystifying personality inventories). Gestion, 36(3), 61–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Camus, O. (2011). L’évaluation des compétences relationnelles et sociales: obstacles idéologiques et reconceptualisations nécessaires (Evaluation of relational and social competences: ideological obstacles and necessary reconceptualisations). Rouen: University of Rouen.

    Google Scholar 

  • CEDEFOP (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training). (2009). European guidelines for validating non-formal and informal learning. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cheroutre, M.-T. (1989). L’essor et l’avenir du bénévolat, facteur d’amélioration de la qualité de la vie (The growth and future of volunteering as a factor in improving the quality of life). Paris: Conseil économique et social.

    Google Scholar 

  • CoE (Council of Europe). (2007). Mini-compendium of non-formal education. Strasbourg: Council of Europe, Directorate of Youth and Sport.

    Google Scholar 

  • Côme, T., & Morder, R. (Eds) (2009). Rapport pour l’Observatoire de la Vie Etudiante. Etat des savoirs. Les engagements des étudiants. Formes collectives et organisées d’une identité étudiante (Report for the Observatory of Student Life: State of knowledge, student commitments. Collective and organised forms of student identity). Vanves cedex: Observatoire national de la vie étudiante (OVE). Retrieved 27 March 2017 from

  • Cortesero, R. (2013). La valorisation des compétences acquises dans le secteur associatif est liée aux politiques éducatives (J. Felkowski, Intervieweur) [The valuation of competences acquired in the voluntary sector is linked to educational policies (interviewer: J. Felkowski)]. Retrieved 27 March 2017

  • Crosbie, R. (2005). Learning the soft skills of leadership. Industrial and Commercial Training, 37(1), 45–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Du Bois Reymond, M. (2003). Study on the links between formal and non-formal education. Strasbourg: Council of Europe, Directorate of Youth and Sport.

    Google Scholar 

  • Duvekot et al. (2007). Managing European diversity in lifelong education. The many perspectives of the valuation of prior learning in the European workplace. Amsterdam: HAN University, Foundation EC-VPL & Hogeschool van Amsterdam.

  • EC (European Commission). (2000). A memorandum on lifelong learning. Commission staff working paper. SEC(2000) 1832. Brussels: Commission of the European Communities. Retrieved 28 March 2017 from

  • EC. (2009). An EU strategy for youthInvesting and empowering. A renewed open method of coordination to address youth challenges and opportunities. Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. COM(2009) 200 final. Brussels: European Commission. Retrieved 28 April 2017 from

  • EC. (2011). Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the regions. Communication on EU policies and volunteering: Recognizing and promoting cross-border voluntary activities in the EU. COM(2011) 568 final. Brussels: European Commission. Retrieved 27 March 2017 from

  • Economic and Social Council. (1993). Exercice et développement de la vie associative dans le cade de la loi du 1er juillet 1901. Avis et rapport du Conseil Economique et Social du 24 Février (Exercise and development of associative life under the law of 1 July 1901. Opinion and report of the Economic and Social Council of 24 February). Journal Officiel (JO) n°4, 1 avril 1993. Paris: Conseil économique et social, Direction des journaux officiels.

  • Goleman, D. (1996). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. London: Bloomsbury.

    Google Scholar 

  • Halba, B. (2007). Volunteering in the VPL-perspective. In R. Duvekot, G. Scanlon, A.-M- Charraud, K. Schuur, D. Coughlan, T. Nilsen-Mohn, J. Paulusse & R. Klarus (Eds.), Managing European diversity in lifelong education. The many perspectives of the valuation of prior learning in the European workplace (pp. 175–190). Amsterdam: HAN University, Foundation EC-VPL & Hogeschool van Amsterdam. Retrieved 27, March 2017, from

  • Hamadache, A. (1993). Linking formal and non-formal education: Implications for teacher training. Paris: UNESCO. Retrieved 27 March 2017 from

  • Hoarau, J., Bouret, J., & Mauléon, F. (2014). Le réflexe soft skills [The soft skills reflex]. Paris: Dunod.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jain, V. (2009). Importance of soft skills development in education: What are soft skills? (online resource: School of Educators blogpost 22 February). Retrieved 27 March 2017 from

  • Khasanzyanova, A. (2015). Les apprentissages des bénévoles dans l’activité associative. Quelles compétences acquièrent-ils, pour quels usages? (The learning of volunteers in associations. What competences do they acquire, for what purposes?). Doctoral thesis, University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne, Reims, France.

  • Krichewsky, M. (2009). Entre cadre et liberté: une «pédagogie transitionnelle» pour développer des compétences transversales? Analyse critique de deux dispositifs dans l’enseignement professionnel supérieur (Between framework and freedom: A “transitional pedagogy” to develop transversal competences? Critical analysis of two systems in higher vocational education). Unpublished document. Retrieved 27 March, 2017, from

  • Laville, J. L. (1997). L’association: une liberté à la démocratie (The association: A freedom for democracy). In J. L. Laville, & R. Sainsaulieu (Eds.), Sociologie de l’association. Des organisations à l’épreuve du changement social [Sociology of the association: Organisations facing the test of social change] (pp. 35–73). Paris: Desclée de Brouwer.

  • Le Boterf, G. (2000). L’ingénierie des compétences (Engineering competences) (Vol. 2). Paris: Editions d’Organisation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lengrand, P. (1982). Structures de l’apprentissage dans les pays de l’Europe Occidentale (Learning structures in the countries of Western Europe). International Review of Education, 28(2), 189–207.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Merle, V. (2006). La FTLV (formation tout au long de la vie), un projet pour les sociétés démocratiques (Lifelong learning: A project for democratic societies). In Y. Morvan, La formation tout au long de la vie. Nouvelles questions, nouvelles perspectives (Lifelong learning: New issues, new perspectives) (pp. 23–36). Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

  • Muir, C. (2004). Learning soft skills at work: An interview with Annalee Luhman. Business Communication Quarterly, 67(1), 95–101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). (2017). Youth unemployment rate (indicator) [online database, doi: 10.1787/c3634df7-en]. Retrieved 10 May 2017 from

  • Pain, A. (1990). L’éducation informelle. Les effets formateurs dans le quotidien (Informal education. Training effects in everyday life). Paris: L’Harmattan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pastre. (2011). La didactique profesionnelle. Approche anthropologique du développement chez les adultes (Professional didactics: Anthropological approach to adult development). Paris: Presses universitaires de France (PUF).

  • Peugny, C. (2011). Les jeunesses européennes, leurs difficultés et leur perception de l’avenir: une tentative de comparaison [European youth, their difficulties and their perception of the future: A tentative comparison]. Informations sociales, 165–166(3–4), 50–59.

    Google Scholar 

  • Piot, T. (2006). Présentation. Formation et intervention sociale: poser la question de compétences dans les métiers d’interaction humaine (Presentation. Training and social intervention: Asking the skills question in professions involving human interaction). Les Sciences de l’éducationPour l’Ere nouvelle, 39(3), 7–21.

  • Piot, T. (2008). La construction des compétences pour enseigner (Building competences to teach). McGill Journal of Education, 43(2), 95–110.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Presse, M. C., & Wittorski, R. (2013). Accéder à l’expérience: enjeux, modalités, effets (Accessing experience: Issues, modalities, effects). Questions Vives, 10(20), 13–15.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ren, P., & Du, Z. (2014). Information science and management engineering (Vol. 1). Southampton: WIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rey, B. (2009). «Compétence» et «compétence professionnelle». Autour des mots (“Competence” and “professional competence”: Around the words). Recherche et formation, 60, 103–116.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Samurçay, R., & Rabardel, P. (2004). Modèles pour l’analyse de l’activité et des compétences, propositions [Models for analysis of activity and competences, proposals]. In R. Samurçay & P. Pastré (Eds.), Recherches en didactique profesionnelle (Research in professional didactics) (pp. 163–180). Toulouse: Octares éditions.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schugurensky, D. (2013). Introduction. In F. Duguid, K. Mündel, & D. Schugurensky (Eds.), Volunteer work, informal learning and social action (pp. 1–16). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Ségal, E. (2006). Les « savoir-être » , un angle mort des débats sur la competence (“Know-how”: a blind spot in debates on competence). L’Homme et la Société, 162(4), 97–113.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sharma, M. (2009). How important are soft skills from the recruiter’s perspective? The Icfai University Journal of Soft Skills, 3(2), 19–28.

    Google Scholar 

  • Simonet-Cusset, M. (2004). Penser le bénévolat comme travail pour repenser la sociologie du travail (Thinking about volunteering as work to rethink the sociology of work). Revue de l’IRES, 44(1), 141–155.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tremblay, N. (1996). Quatre compétences clés pour l’autoformation (Four key skills for self-training). Les Sciences de l’éducation pour l’Ere nouvelle, 39(1–2), 153–176.

    Google Scholar 

  • Van der Maren, J. M. (2003). Méthodes de recherche pour l’éducation (Research methods for education). Montréal/Brussels: PUM/De Boeck Université.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vandenberghe, R. (2006). La recherche qualitative en education: dégager le sens et démêler la complexité (Qualitative research in education: Uncovering meaning and disentangling complexity). In L. Paquay, M. Crahay, & J. M. De Ketele (Eds.), L’analyse qualitative en éducation (Qualitative analysis in education) (pp. 53–64). Brussels: De Boeck Supérieur.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vergnaud, (1999). La forme opératoire de la connaissance: un beau sujet de recherche fondamentale et appliquée (The operative form of knowledge: A beautiful subject of fundamental and applied research). In Club Crin (Ed.), Entreprises et compétences, le sens des évolutions (Companies and skills, the meaning of evolutions) (pp. 193–202). Paris: Ecrin.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Albina Khasanzyanova.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: