Volunteers – at the heart of Inspiring the Future

  • Volunteer role model sits in uniform with students

It’s Te Wiki Tūao ā-Motu – National Volunteer Week!

Led by Tūao Aotearoa Volunteering New Zealand, it’s a time to honour the collective energies and mana of volunteers across Aotearoa New Zealand and celebrate how our communities are stronger when we work together.

Volunteers are central to Inspiring the Future Aotearoa, so let’s take stock of the inspiration and motivation our role models have shared with young people through Inspiring the Future events over the past three years.

Volunteers’ impact in New Zealand

“Volunteering is at the very core of being a human. No one has made it through life without someone else’s help.” – Heather French Henry

Volunteering is essential to social cohesion. Tūao Aotearoa Volunteering New Zealand estimates that 50 percent of New Zealanders volunteer – giving around 167 million hours of labour each year. Their key motivator is contributing to the community.

The value of formal volunteering (coordinated through organisations) in New Zealand is estimated at $4 billion per annum. Informal volunteering – which takes place directly between individuals and the community – is harder to measure, but certainly boosts this total.

What is Inspiring the Future?

Inspiring the Future is a free programme for schools across Aotearoa. Backed by evidence, t aims to broaden career horizons and challenge stereotypes that can limit young people’s potential – by introducing them to volunteer role models from the world of work.

Schools host Inspiring the Future events, where students hear from role models in their communities – about their jobs, why they love them, the pathways they took and the challenges they faced along the way.

Inspiring the Future is also being used to help young people who are not in education, employment or training.

Our volunteer role models’ impact

Let’s start with numbers. As of June 2024:

  • 1,100+ role models volunteering nationwide
  • 350+ schools signed up
  • 250+ Inspiring the Future events held
  • 17,000+ interactions between young people and the world of work.

The important part, though, is what students have got out of the events. Here’s a small sample of what students, teachers and careers advisors have told us.


“I learnt that a job can be pretty much anything, and don't be afraid to take chances.” – Student

“The highlight was meeting all the people and getting to talk to them about their jobs. I didn’t know about any of them – it was so cool to learn about the wide variety. Sabrina was cool to meet because she made economics sound interesting and she had a really good fringe. Also, I liked that one of them said that in math you learn about logic as well as equations.” – Waiheke High School student

“This is the first time we’ve had speakers come in. It was good to hear about their day-to-day and ask questions directly to them. Their answers are not the kind of things we can find on Google, and not in a New Zealand context. It’s cool that a lot of them are from here or studied here (Wellington).”  – St Catherine’s College Student Careers Ambassador


“Having people come in who are working in the jobs is key. It’s all very good having the providers handing out flyers about what students could study, but if you’re not really sure about the relevance of that in a job…” – St Catherine’s College teacher

“The students benefited from seeing the different career pathways they might not see represented in their community. They said they really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to people in different jobs.” – Kohia Terrace School teacher

“Students shared they had a great day. At least half fell asleep on the way home on the bus. The staff said that providing students with experiences and opportunities – outside of what they already know exists – grows their desire for knowledge, and helps them to think and understand the world … I’ve had several students ask about how to get into farming while at school. Not one student asked when we were leaving or didn't want to be there after they had arrived.” – Haeta Community Campus teacher (about an on-farm Inspiring the Future event)

Careers advisors

“This event was a fantastic opportunity to reach rangatahi outside traditional education paths, offering a unique chance for them to connect with role models from their own communities. The conversations sparked inspiration, with some leaving interested in a journey of education next year.” – Employment Liaison Advisor, Connected NZ (about an event for young people not in education, employment or training)

“You can’t be what you can’t see. The students seeing these people, hearing they live here, they work here … that is the idea for me, that they become aware of how wide the world of careers actually is.” – Otamatea High School Careers Advisor

Role model magic

We asked teachers what role models did particularly well to connect with the students. They told us:

  • being approachable, friendly and open
  • bringing tangible props or examples of their work
  • telling their personal stories with a lot of honesty
  • asking rangatahi what jobs they were interested in
  • being positive, engaging and passionate about their jobs
  • using humour
  • adapting their language for the age group
  • giving encouraging messages that made the students think, “Anything is possible for me.”

Why Inspiring the Future?

Research shows that children form aspirations for their future and have unconscious biases from as young as seven. These aspirations and biases are linked with their outcomes later in life.

The Tertiary Education Commission conducted research in Aotearoa (Drawing the Future, 2019), asking children aged 7 to 13 to draw what they wanted to be when they grew up. More than 7,700 children responded and the results found narrow aspirations, with more than half of young people seeing themselves in one of just nine jobs.

There were also patterns of unconscious bias about gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status. The research asked children how they knew about the job they chose, and most answers involved family or the media.

Exposure to the wider world, to real stories from people in the community and to role models is vital, at a young age, to broaden young people's horizons and empower them for their futures.

How role models impact career aspirations and educational attainment

Countless studies show the benefits of young people having positive role models in their lives.

Research from the UK, cited in The Value of Volunteering (Percy & Rogers, 2021), found:

  • Young adults who remember that when they were at school they were part of four or more activities with employer-volunteers (eg, work experience, enterprise events, mentoring) are nearly twice as likely to find it easy to pursue their career ambitions and 42 percent less likely to be not in education, employment or training (NEET) in their early 20s (Mann et al, 2017).
  • GCSE students who had three careers talks were more motivated and revised harder than a control group. This translated into overall higher grades than predicted for them in Science, English and Maths – the equivalent of one student in a class of 25 beating their predictions by one grade (Kashefpakdel et al, 2019).
  • A programme of 10 careers talks for 14–15 year olds typically correlated to an eight percent increase in earnings at age 26, as demonstrated using a major UK longitudinal dataset (Kashefpakdel & Percy, 2017).

Our own Drawing the Future report found that:

  • Engagement with role models can be effective in challenging gender or ethnic stereotyping of engineering and science jobs (Royal Society, 2004).
  • In the United States, role models have been influential for children as young as eight years old (Howard et al, 2015).
  • Students’ career choices are most strongly influenced by people employed in the types of roles students were interested in. Hearing employees’ stories (both in person and online) also facilitated students’ interest and engagement (Colmar Brunton, 2016).

Get in touch with us

Want to inspire young people as a volunteer role model? Find out more and sign up.

Want to connect your students with role models from the world of work? Find out more.


  • Colmar Brunton. (2016). Understanding decision making that leads to careers in the Primary Industries. Colmar Brunton.
  • Kashefpakdel, E., & Percy, C. (2017). Career education that works: an economic analysis using the British Cohort Study. Journal of Education and Work, 30(3), 217–234.
  • Kashefpakdel, E., Percy, C., & Rehill, J. (2019). Motivated to achieve: How encounters with the world of work can change attitudes and improve academic achievement. Education and Employers. https://www.educationandemployers.org/research/motivated-to-achieve
  • Howard, K.A.S., Flanagan, S., Castine, E., and Walsh, M.E. (2015). Perceived influences on the career choices of children and youth: An exploratory study. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance, vol. 15, no. 2, 99–111.
  • Mann, A., Kashefpakdel, E.T., Rehill, J., & Huddleston, P. (2017). Contemporary transitions: Young Britons reflect on life after secondary school and college. Education and Employers.
  • Percy, C., & Rogers, M. (2021). The value of volunteering: Volunteering in education and productivity at work. Education and Employers.
  • Royal Society. (2004). Taking a leading role: A good practice guide for all those involved in role model schemes aiming to inspire young people about science, engineering and technology. Royal Society.