The voluntary sector is highly qualified and experienced
The voluntary sector workforce is highly educated, with over half (51%) of employees educated to degree level or higher (LFS). This is much higher than in the private sector, where less than a third (29%) of employees were educated to this level, but is similar to the public sector. The proportion of those with a degree increased in the voluntary sector, from 37% in 2010 to 51% in 2018. This reflects a general trend across sectors (LFS).
There is also evidence to suggest that those working in the voluntary sector are experienced in the work they do. The lack of relevant work experience was cited by only 15% of voluntary organisations as a reason for having vacancies that are hard to fill, which is slightly higher than in the public sector (11%) but much lower than the private sector (22%) (ESS).
Chart 1: Over half of the voluntary sector workforce is educated to degree level or higher
The importance that the voluntary sector places on qualifications and previous work experience may come with drawbacks
Half of voluntary organisations placed critical or significant importance on candidates having particular academic qualifications (eg GCSEs, A-levels or degrees), and 70% put critical or significant importance on employees having relevant work experience. This increased with the size of organisations, from 65% for those with 2–4 employees to 72% for those with 100 or more employees (ESS). Additionally, only 28% of voluntary organisations hired someone into their first job after leaving education, which is lower than in the private sector (31%) and much lower than in the public sector (42%) (EPS). While salary levels may also play a role in whether organisations are able to attract people at the start of their careers (see the section on pay and employment benefits for more information), these findings demonstrate the importance of previous experience when working in the voluntary sector.
The data also suggests that many employees in the voluntary sector have skills or qualifications that are not used by their employers. Over half (52%) of voluntary sector employers said that their staff have qualifications more advanced than required for their current role. This was slightly higher than in the public sector (51%) and much higher than in the private sector (41%). Similarly, when including skills, 43% of employers in the voluntary sector had staff with qualifications and skills that are more advanced than required for their current role. This was slightly higher than the proportion in the public sector (41%) and much higher than the private sector (33%) (ESS).
Chart 2: Over 4 in 10 employers had staff with skills or qualifications that are not used by employers
Spotlight: Qualifications, work experience and diversity
The importance placed on having previous work experience and qualifications may exclude those who face greater barriers to gaining these. For example, it may be challenging for young people to enter the voluntary sector as their first job. As mentioned previously, only 28% of voluntary organisations hired someone into their first job after education (ESS).
Over half (55%) of voluntary organisations offered a work placement to people in education, compared to 26% in the private sector and 62% in the public sector. However, only a minority of people on these placements were then offered a permanent or long-term paid role. Less than a third of voluntary organisations had a work placement for people at university (29%) or people in further education or sixth form college (27%), of which 15% and 12% respectively were offered a permanent paid role at the organisation (EPS). All of these factors may impact on the proportion of young people working in the sector.
Educational barriers may also limit entry into the voluntary sector for lower socio-economic groups and those from deprived backgrounds. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, students from lower socio-economic groups made up a minority of higher education student enrolments in 2017/18. For example, 8% of students belonged to the ‘routine occupations’ socio-economic group compared to 25% in ‘higher managerial and professional occupations’. However, further evidence from UCAS January deadline analysis report 2019 suggests that the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged groups applying for higher education is narrowing.
Research from the Office for Students suggests that people from BAME backgrounds have historically been less likely to enter higher education. While the gap has recently narrowed, degree outcomes still vary by ethnicity. For instance, research from Advance HE shows that of the BAME people with a degree, only 63% will be awarded a 2.1 or higher compared to 79% of white students. If an organisation has a minimum entry requirement, this may negatively impact BAME people.
The voluntary sector’s value of higher education may also have a negative impact on the number of disabled people working in the sector. Recent figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that disabled students made up 13% of enrolments in 2017/18, which is lower than the proportion of working age disabled adults (19%).
Aside from lack of experience or qualifications, other factors such as salary levels may also impact on the diversity of the sector’s workforce. However, further research is needed to understand the role they play.
a measurement of occupations used as an indicator for socio-economic group