The voluntary sector workforce: challenges and opportunities

New research from the Workforce Hub and NCVO has revealed a significant growth in the VCS workforce in the last decade. This rate of growth has in fact been at a higher rate than the public and private sectors. However, the '2007 Voluntary Sector Skills Survey’ published in tandem with this reveals a number of challenges for the sector’s employers. One-quarter of organisations report hard to fill vacancies within their organisation and skills gaps in IT, legal knowledge and fundraising. Some of these issues are discussed in this Guardian Article by David Brindle. "Skills gaps have a detrimental impact on the organisation and its employees, particularly through the increased workload placed on other employees and volunteers," the report says. "Increasing expectations on voluntary sector organisations to function as high-performing private businesses, combined with changing working practices and high turnover rates, make it increasingly difficult to recruit, retain and train a fully skilled workforce." As the number of paid employees in the voluntary sector has increased, so has interest in the role of the VCS as an employer and the social and economic significance of this role. Another contributory factor to the problem has been the rapid growth in size of the sector over the past decade. Recent years have seen an increasing emphasis on the VCS to be a deliverer of public services, changing characteristics and working patterns of the sector’s employees and the increased professionalisation of the sector, which all brings both challenges and opportunities for the VCS. (See the driver on the 'Labour market') 40% of VCOs interviewed anticipate that recruitment will get more difficult over the next three years.

Some of the headline findings for the VCS workforce are:

  • Increased professionalisation of the sector - One-third of VCS employees (33%) have a degree or equivalent qualification. Between 1996 and 2005 this has increased by 43%. (For information related to this professionalisation - see ‘professionalisation of volunteering’.)
  • A more female workforce - Over two-thirds of the VCS workforce is female (69%), similar to the public sector (64%) but much higher than the private sector (40%).
  • A higher proportion of part-time workers - Part-time employees account for 39% of voluntary and community sector employment - higher than in the public and private sectors (29% and 23% respectively).
  • A bigger deliverer of public services - There has been a huge increase (86%) in the number of people working in social care, from 149,000 in 1996 to 277,000 in 2005. Social care now accounts for 54% of the VCS’ employees. (See 'bringing markets into public services'.)
  • A higher proportion of disabled staff - Nearly one in five people (18%) working in the VCS has a disability, higher than the public (14%) and private sectors (13%).
  • Smaller workplaces - One-third of VCS workers (32%) are employed in workplaces with less than ten employees. This is vastly different to both the private (25%) and public sectors (8%).
  • Hard to fill vacancies - Recruitment problems are evident across the sector with 25% of employers reporting hard to fill vacancies, particularly within youth work, social care and health care.
  • Under skilled staff - Around 30% of employers reported under-skilled staff. Small organisations are more likely to report skills gaps. This is leading to an increase in the workload of other employees. 25% use volunteers to cover the work, particularly within smaller organisations.
  • Lack of funding for training - 50% identified that skills gaps were caused by a lack of time and funding for training within their organisation.

 All these factors make it imperative for employers to concentrate on the management of human resources both in terms of organisational and individual development. However with planning and foresight, the growth already experienced will lead to a professional and thriving sector.

Last updated at 15:08 Mon 18/May/09.
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