Charity staff highly qualified, but not diverse enough, NCVO report shows

Charities across the UK are employing people who are highly qualified, but at the expense of excluding people from a range of backgrounds, new NCVO research has revealed.

The research, entitled Planning for tomorrow’s workforce: understanding skills and skills gaps in the voluntary sector, found over half of the charity sector is educated to degree level and 70 per cent of charities cite relevant work experience as ‘critical’ or ‘significant’ when recruiting new applicants.

As many as 43 per cent of charity employers claim their staff have skills and qualifications that are more advanced than required for their current role, higher than in the public sector (41%) and notably higher than in the private sector (33%). Voluntary sector organisations report fewer skills gaps in their staff than the private or public sector.

But the search for highly qualified members of staff is detrimental to diverse organisations, which include staff members from a range of backgrounds, with wide-ranging experiences, the research revealed.

Findings revealed charity sector workers are less likely to be from a BAME background – just 9 per cent of staff, compared to 12 per cent in both the public and private sectors.

The NCVO has said charities ‘should consider the consequences of expecting or requiring more qualifications and experience than are necessary for roles’, noting how employers could be ‘excluding candidates from backgrounds where people face barriers to higher education or are less able to gain work experience or experience through volunteering, including voluntary internships’.

‘This is likely to affect people from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds and disabled people, while younger people inevitably have less previous work experience,’ it added.

The research is the first look into the skills gap in the sector for over eight years and is based on three major national surveys, including the Employer Skills Survey, the Employer Perspective Survey and the Labour Force Survey.

Researchers found 38 per cent of staff are aged 50 or older, compared to 35 per cent in the public sector and 30 per cent in the private sector. Meanwhile, charities were also found to be less likely than other employers to recruit staff into their first job after leaving education.

The report published on the back of the research has recommended prompts for senior managers and trustees to help them consider how to best address skills haps within their organisation and the potential diversity impacts involved.

“The findings paint a clear picture of a highly skilled workforce, indeed often an over-skilled workforce. This is in many ways an asset and likely reflects the positive commitment people have to staying in the sector,” NCVO senior researcher, Keeva Rooney said.

“Of course there are very highly skilled people from all backgrounds working in and looking to join the sector. But the reality is some groups still face greater barriers to higher education and to getting work experience, particularly unpaid experience.

“It’s important that we think about the consequences of this for the shape of workforces as a whole. It could be a contributing factor in lowering diversity. If charity employers are prioritising applications from, or in some cases only accepting applications from, those with degrees or even higher-level degrees or with possibly more experience than is really required, they inevitably create barriers that some groups will be more likely to be affected by than others.

“Unless charities think about how to invest in bringing in and training staff with different backgrounds, we’re likely to continue to see the sector struggling in terms of diversity.”

You can read the full report, detailing the findings here.

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