Understanding what skills are existent or missing in the voluntary sector workforce – and what challenges organisations are facing around workforce planning – is an important step to better supporting the sector, particularly in the current climate. Factors like the changing funding environment and the development of digital technologies are having an impact on the sector’s workforce and the skills needed. In addition, with Brexit on the horizon there is a possibility that voluntary organisations will see skills gaps increase in the future.

NCVO’s previous research on skills includes the Voluntary Sector Skills Survey 2007, which explored issues surrounding skills in voluntary organisations. It found that a quarter (24%) had vacancies that were hard to fill, of which 37% applicants lacked the skills required for the role. It also highlighted that almost a third (29%) had under-skilled staff within their organisation. More recently, the 2011 UK Voluntary Sector Workforce Almanac presented some data on skills in the voluntary sector.

In this research briefing, we aim to provide sector leaders and policy-makers with an up-to-date picture of the sector’s skills and skills gaps by:

  • identifying which skills staff in voluntary organisations have
  • examining how common skills gaps are in the voluntary sector by types of roles and size of organisations
  • exploring how skills gaps are impacting on voluntary organisations and how they are responding.

Our approach

Researching skills and skills gaps is difficult, mainly because both are hard to measure. For the purposes of this briefing, we have measured skills by looking at qualifications, work experience and absence of an identified ‘skill gap’. For skills gaps, we have used three measures that have been self-reported by employers:

  • 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. In the data sources, these are referred to as ‘skills-shortage vacancies (SSV)’
  • Skills gaps in current staff: skills that have been identified as missing in employer’s current workforce. In the data sources, these are referred to as ‘skills gaps’

Our analysis is based on data from two primary sources:

  • The Employer Skills Survey 2017 (ESS)
  • The Employer Perspectives Survey 2016 (EPS)

These national surveys include a broad range of employers across sectors, ie they are not voluntary sector specific. Because of this, skills such as fundraising and campaigning are not included. For sector-specific skills, we have looked at other sources including the FSI’s Small Charity Skills report. It is also worth noting that the surveys only focus on paid staff, not volunteers.

We have analysed both surveys over five years: EPS covers the years 2012, 2014 and 2016 and ESS covers 2013, 2015 and 2017. As these surveys are only conducted every two years, our trend analysis is limited to just three time points for each dataset.

Additional data on workforce demographics including qualifications and previous experience is based on the Labour Force Survey 2018 (LFS) published in the UK Civil Society Almanac.

More information on these surveys can be found in the Methodology section.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 14 September 2022