Skills gaps in charities: Findings from our latest research briefing

Today we have published our latest research briefing on skills and skills gaps in the voluntary sector. This research aims to help organisations shape their workforce planning and policy-makers to better understand the sector’s challenges around skills.

We have analysed data from two national surveys to help us understand what skills are existent or missing in the sector’s current staff and job applicants. We have used three measures to identify skills gaps:

  • Hard-to-fill vacancies: vacancies that employers are finding hard to recruit for
  • Skills gaps in applicants: vacancies that are hard to fill due to applicants lacking skills
  • Skills gaps in current staff: skills that have been identified as missing in employer’s current workforce

This blog draws out a few key findings from our research. Have a look at the full briefing for all the details.

Qualifications and previous experience are highly valued in the sector, which may exclude those who face barriers into gaining these

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.

However, this focus on qualifications and previous experience may exclude those who face barriers into gaining these. For instance, young people are less likely to have previous work experience and research shows that those who are disabled or from lower socio-economic groups are less likely to have higher-level qualifications. As the sector is more likely to be older (38% were aged 50 or over compared to 35% in the public sector and 30% in the private sector) and has fewer black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employees (9% compared to 12% in the public and private sector), organisations looking to improve their workforce diversity may want to consider what level of education requirements and previous experience are genuinely essential, or risk inadvertently excluding potential good applicants.

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 (14%). 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.

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

Specialist skills were key missing skills for applicants (66%) and staff (52%) and were more likely to affect bigger organisations than smaller organisations. Bigger organisations generally were more likely to have a skills gap than smaller organisations (36% of organisations with 250 or more employees compared to 5% in organisations with 2–4 employees) and this could be because bigger organisations are more likely to require specialist roles.

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%).

What’s next

The full findings of our research can be found here or downloaded as a PDF here. At the end of the briefing we have included a table of considerations to help assess and address potential skills gaps in organisations.

Other things organisations might want to do:

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Keeva is a senior researcher at NCVO. She supports the research team across a number of different projects.

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