Analysis: Do rising voluntary workforce figures hide a harsher truth?

Jobs are less secure and there are more temporary contracts and part-time work, according to Graham Leigh of Skills - Third Sector. Jenna Pudelek reports

Figures show rise in number of voluntary sector workers
Figures show rise in number of voluntary sector workers

It was a surprise to many when figures published early last month showed a rise in the number of people working in the voluntary sector.

An analysis of the government’s quarterly Labour Force Survey by three organisations, including Skills – Third Sector, the skills body, showed that the number of voluntary sector workers rose by almost 10 per cent to 793,000 in the year to the end of September.

Speaking at an event in London last week, Graham Leigh, director of strategic partnerships at Skills – Third Sector, warned that the figures "hide a darker picture" of poor job security.

Closer analysis of the data shows that the number of people working part time in the voluntary sector because they cannot find full-time jobs increased by 15,000 to 56,000 – a 36 per cent rise – in the year to the end of September. The number of people employed on a temporary basis in the sector also increased, rising by 23 per cent to 94,000. The figures also show that about two-thirds of sector employees say they are not receiving any job-related training.

Leigh tells Third Sector he is concerned about the long-term implications of these figures.

"The risk is that charities are not retaining the intellectual capital and the institutional memory to be effective in the long term," he says. "A lack of obvious pathways to career progression means our sector will not be positioned to compete with other sectors for the most talented and ambitious people in the future, whether they’re just starting out or are well established in their careers."

Maria Aguilar, director of HR Services Partnership, a consultancy that specialises in the voluntary sector, says organisations that are reducing their workforces are often offering part-time roles as an alternative to redundancy.

"We’ve done a lot of work over the past three to four years with organisations that are restructuring," she says. "The jobs being created are invariably on a fixed-term basis and are often part-time posts. I don’t blame employers for hiring people on fixed-term contracts. If they have funding for only 18 months, for example, they are doing the right thing."

Rising employment in the charity sector reflect the situation in the wider economy, where 29.7 million people are in work – the highest level since records began in 1971. But economic growth has stalled at the same time.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development sought to unravel what it called a "jobs enigma" in its latest Labour Market Outlook report, based on a survey of 1,000 HR professionals from all sectors. It found that 33 per cent of employers had reduced hours in the past five years, and 30 per cent of those in part-time work would like more hours.

Gerwyn Davies, labour market adviser at the CIPD and the report’s author, says the overall picture for the voluntary sector is similar to that for the private and public sector.

In line with other sectors, a third of voluntary sector employers have reduced hours in the past five years, he says, and employers plan to hire 29 per cent of recruits on temporary contracts during the first quarter of 2013.

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