When college students Eric Zenisek and Michael Stennet published a post on Fortune.com titled “Why Millennials Should Ditch Corporate Jobs for Public Service,” it raised more than a few eyebrows. First, the choice of venue — Fortune has long been dedicated to supporting business and wealth building— seemed an unusual choice for two proponents of a service-focused life. But perhaps more importantly, the article garnered strong reaction because it highlighted a potential crisis that is looming on the horizon: A lack of strong leadership for future generations.
The good news is that the Millennial generation is one of the most civic-minded generations in more than 75 years. The National Conference on Citizenship reports that 43 percent of Millennials are engaged in service, almost ten percent more than the next closest generation, the Baby Boomers. Applications for the Americorps service program increase nearly every year; between 2009 and 2013, the number of applications rose by nearly 300,000. The problem is, though, that while so many students are willing to serve, there simply aren’t enough opportunities to go around, due in large part to lack of funding, high levels of interest or, in many cases, an unwillingness among current leadership and older generations to allow younger people to take on more important roles in public service.
Still, despite the challenges, the Fortune piece highlights a fact that no student can ignore: A commitment to service is a vital asset for any student, as the future, both individually and societally, depends on young people’s willingness to serve.
Service Ensures a Strong Future
There’s no denying that American is more polarized today than ever before. However, one thing that many people can agree upon is that when a group works toward a shared purpose, it can bring them together regardless of their political, religious or social beliefs. When people have to work together to solve a problem or achieve a goal, they learn how to respect each other’s opinions and values, and find ways to see eye to eye and reach common ground.
That’s not to say that service is an automatic ticket to everyone sitting around the campfire singing “Kumbaya.” However, when students are actively involved in serving others in any capacity, whether charitable, social, faith-based or military, they learn the vital skills that are necessary not only for keeping society together, but for leading in the workplace. In addition, those who commit to service on a smaller scale, such as volunteering with underprivileged children or the homeless, are often more willing to step up and take a leadership role on a larger scale down the road. America needs these new leaders to take the reins, and fill the important governmental roles in the future.
Service Improves the Economy
While it might seem counterintuitive, the nonprofit sector is a major contributor to the American economy, in a number of important ways.
First, consider the value of volunteer time. According to the Independent Sector,the value of volunteer time in 2013 averaged around $22 per hour. Considering that about 26 percent of American adults provided 7.9 billion hours of service in 2013, that adds up to a substantial contribution — and money that organizations didn’t have to spend. In some cases, the availability of volunteer labor allowed the organization to continue offering services they may otherwise have had to suspend.
Not to mention, even nonprofits contribute to the economy. From payroll to business expenses, nonprofit organizations pump money into the economy and help keep people working. Almost ten percent of the American workforce is employed in a nonprofit — and almost 6 percent of the nation’s GDP is produced by nonprofits. When a student is committed to service, and decides to make a career out of helping others, they are making a major contribution to the economy.
Service Improves Employability
In a tight job market, candidates need to find any advantage they can over others — and service helps provide that. The Corporation for National and Community Service found that people engaged in community service were 27 percent more likely to find a job after a period of unemployment that those who aren’t. The reasons for this vary from improved networking (volunteering can help you meet people you otherwise wouldn’t) to skill building, avoiding gaps in the resume and showing employers your dedication to community. Whatever the cause, a dedication to service is a positive quality that employers admire, making it easier for students to find jobs after earning a degree.
Clearly, a commitment to service has many benefits for a student. Even if you don’t opt to forgo the corporate life altogether in favor of serving others, including service in your life has lasting personal, professional and societal benefits.