The number of voluntary sector workers rose by almost 10 per cent in the year to the end of September, according to figures released today.
The figures are based on an analysis carried out by Skills – Third Sector, the Third Sector Research Centre and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations of the Labour Force Survey, a UK-wide study of private households repeated every quarter by the Office for National Statistics.
The data shows that the number of voluntary sector employees rose from 723,000 in the third quarter of 2011 to 793,000 in the same period last year.
The latest figures, which show a rise of 18,000 in the voluntary sector workforce compared with the previous quarter, indicate that the size of the workforce has returned to the same level as in the third quarter of 2010.
The figures show that 37 per cent of the voluntary sector workforce was employed on a part-time basis – a higher proportion than in either the public or private sectors.
They also revealed that the number of voluntary sector staff who worked part time because they couldn’t find full-time posts increased by 36 per cent, or 15,000 people, over the previous 12 months.
The voluntary sector relied more on temporary staff than did other sectors: 88 per cent of voluntary sector employees were on permanent contracts, compared with 92 per cent in the public sector and 94 per cent in the private sector.
Steve McKay, professor of social research at the University of Birmingham, said the increase could be attributed to the high volume of temporary and part-time posts.
"It is quite surprising to see such resilience in the numbers working in the voluntary sector, but – as is true more widely – there have been limited recent increases in wage rates and many posts remain part time or described as temporary rather than permanent," he said. "The stability of the numbers therefore seems to be quite fragile."
Staff development has also suffered a hit, according to the figures, because the number of employees undertaking training in the four weeks leading up to the survey fell by 11,000, or 8 per cent, compared with the previous quarter.
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO, said voluntary sector employers should ensure they prioritised learning and development.
"Investing in staff development can seem like a luxury when time and money are tight, but it’s crucial to keep staff engaged and deliver the best services, and it needn’t be expensive," he said. "Taking online courses, joining networks, doing job swaps and allowing staff time for volunteering can all help develop skills and bring new ideas to an organisation."