What are the skills of voluntary sector employees?

Education and qualifications

  • Overall, voluntary sector employees are highly educated. Over half (52%) of the workforce in the voluntary sector and 53% in the public sector are qualified to degree level or equivalent.
  • This is much higher than in the private sector, where 3 in 10 employees are educated to degree level or higher. Overall, the qualification profile of private sector employees is more varied than those of the voluntary or public sectors.
  • Although voluntary sector and public sector employees have a similar profile in terms of qualification, public sector organisations reported the highest incidence of skills gaps and voluntary sector organisations the lowest (see next section).

Over half of the voluntary sector workforce is educated to degree level or higher

Skills gaps

  • The voluntary sector has the lowest incidence of missing skills, with one in seven (14%) of organisations reporting having a skills gap in their applicants and current staff.
  • Of those that reported skills gaps, two-thirds (67%) of voluntary organisations said that skills gaps had some sort of impact on their performance, slightly higher than in the private or public sectors (65% and 66% respectively).
  • The most common impact of missing skills in staff on voluntary organisations was an increased workload for staff (50%). This was followed by difficulties introducing new working practices (29%) and higher operating costs (21%).

Voluntary organisations have the lowest incidence of skills gaps compared to other sectors

By type

  • The Employer Skills Survey breaks down the types of skills missing from applicants and the workforce into two categories:
    • Technical and practical skills – such as IT skills, numerical skills and specialist skills or knowledge
    • People and personal skills – such as time management, teamworking and communication skills
  • The most common technical or practical skills missing for current staff are specialist skills or knowledge needed to perform the role (52%), followed by complex analytical skills (47%) and digital skills (36%).
  • The most common people or personal skills missing for staff are self-management skills (67%) and management and leadership skills (57%).
  • To see skills missing from applicants, please see the research briefing on skills and skills gaps.

Specialist skills are the most common ‘hard’ skill missing from staff

Over time

  • The proportion of organisations that reported having a skills gap in their applicants and current workforce has decreased over the years, from 16% to 14% between 2013 and 2017.
  • This decrease reflects a general trend across all sectors, although the level of skills gaps reported in the voluntary sector has decreased more rapidly than in other sectors.
  • The types of missing skills have changed over the years, with skills such as managing their own and others’ feelings and specialist skills now more likely to be missing than in previous years.

The level of skills reported as missing has slightly decreased in recent years

By size

  • More than a third (36%) of voluntary organisations with 250 or more employees have missing skills in their current workforce, compared to 5% of organisations with two to four employees. Larger organisations are more likely to have a skills gap than smaller organisations in the public and private sectors as well.
  • Larger organisations are more likely to have missing specialist skills or knowledge needed for the role (69% of organisations with 100–249 employees compared to 54% of organisations with 5–24 employees). Other skills such as operational skills and management and leadership skills are also more likely to be missing in bigger organisations.
  • When asked about why they had a skills gap in current staff, organisations with more than 250 employees were more likely to cite problems retaining staff (37%) than organisations with 5–24 employees (11%).

Larger organisations are more likely to have a skills gap than smaller organisations

Training and apprenticeships

  • Providing training (71%) is the most common action taken by organisations to address the skills gap, followed by more supervision of staff (62%), more staff appraisals (55%) and implementing a mentoring or buddy scheme (46%).
  • Of organisations who identified a training need among their employees, most (82%) had sought or received training or other help.
  • Voluntary organisations are less likely to increase their recruitment spend/activity to address their skills gap than organisations in other sectors (17% compared to 21% across the public and private sectors).
  • One in seven (14%) of voluntary organisations offers apprenticeships, which is a lower proportion than in the private (18%) and public (28%) sectors. The main reasons given for having an apprenticeship was that it is a good way to gain skilled employees (30%) and to give young people a chance in employment (24%).

Most employers seek to address a skills gap via training

More data and research

Notes and definitions

  • The main sources of data used in our research are the Employer Skills Survey 2017 (ESS) and the Employer Perspectives Survey 2016 (EPS). The surveys are conducted by the Department for Education and examine skills and training in employment. They are run across different sectors, including the voluntary sector, private sector and public sector. To find out more about the surveys, have a look at the methodology section.
  • Additional data on workforce demographics including qualifications and previous experience is based on the Labour Force Survey 2019 (LFS).
  • For more information on how we conducted this research, please see the methodology section of our research briefing.