Summary of key findings

The voluntary sector is highly qualified, but this may come with drawbacks

Over half (51%) of the voluntary sector workforce is educated to degree level or higher, and 70% of voluntary organisations put critical or significant value on having relevant work experience. However, around 4 in 10 (43%) employers have staff with skills and qualifications that are more advanced than required for their current role.

Focusing too much on qualifications and previous experience may exclude those who have barriers in gaining these. For instance, young people are less likely to have previous work experience and those who are disabled or from lower socio-economic groups are less likely to have higher-level qualifications.

Skills gaps are less common in the voluntary sector than other sectors

Compared to the public and the private sector, voluntary organisations reported the lowest incidence of skills gaps, which has fallen from 16% in 2013 to 14% in 2017. Skills gaps in applicants were more likely to affect high-skill occupations (42%) such as managers, while skills gaps in current staff were more likely to affect service intensive occupations (39%), for example care and leisure staff.

Skills gaps are more common in bigger organisations than smaller ones

Bigger organisations were more likely to report skills gaps in their staff than smaller organisations. Over a third (36%) of organisations with 250 or more employees reported a skills gap in their current staff, compared to 5% in organisations with 2–4 employees.

The main impact of skills gaps is increased workload for other staff

Skills gaps had a marked impact on organisations. Half of organisations in the voluntary sector reported that missing skills in their workforce led to an increased workload for staff. Organisations also reported difficulties in introducing new working practices (29%) and higher operating costs (21%).

The biggest skills gaps concern specialist skills, especially for bigger organisations

Specialist skills were a key missing skill for applicants (66%) and staff (52%) and were more likely to affect bigger organisations than smaller organisations. Bigger organisations might be more likely to require specialist roles, while smaller organisations may have more roles with a wider remit which do not demand specialist skills to the same extent.

Other common missing skills in the voluntary sector were self-management skills (66% for applicants and 67% for staff) and digital skills (43% for applicants and 36% for staff).

Incomplete training and poor pay are key reasons for skills gaps in staff and applicants

Employers identified incomplete training (60%) as the main causes of skills gaps in current staff. Additionally, 51% of voluntary organisations wanted to provide more training than they were able to. Of these organisations, 67% gave ‘lack of funds’ as a reason for not being able to provide training, which is much higher than the proportion for the private sector (47%).

Over one in ten employers (13%) gave ‘problems retaining staff’ as a reason for skills gaps in their current staff. Those with 250 or more employees were more likely to cite this (37%) than organisations with 5–24 employees (11%). Poor terms and conditions (eg pay) was the second-highest reason given for having hard-to-fill vacancies (24%).

Providing more training is the most common way of addressing skills gaps

Most employers sought to address skills gaps in their current staff by increasing training activity for their workforce (71%), while increasing advertising or recruitment spend was a key measure in addressing skills gaps in their applicants (43%).

Of those who did not provide training, 15% of voluntary organisations said they had ‘no money available for training’. This was much higher than the level reported across sectors (7%).

Organisations use apprenticeships and hiring non-UK nationals to increase their skills base

Only a minority of voluntary organisations offer apprenticeships –14% compared to 18% in the private and 28% in public sectors. Of those that do, gaining skilled staff is seen as a key benefit which was reported by 30% of voluntary organisations.

Over a quarter of voluntary organisations recruited non-UK nationals to address skills gaps in their applicant base, of which 25% were EU nationals. Similarly, 10% of voluntary organisations recruited non-UK nationals to address the skill gaps in their current staff, of which 28% of employees were from the EU.