Charity recruitment crisis looms

The voluntary sector will face a serious recruitment shortage if it fails to keep up with social, economic and demographic changes, according to a report by voluntary sector think-tank nfpSynergy.

The UK's workforce is shrinking rapidly as people live longer and fewer children are born, it says, and the sector may find it especially difficult to fill vacant positions because of its record for low pay.

The report, Five key trends and their impact on the voluntary sector, looks at how the sector may be affected by an ageing population, decreasing birth rates, the fall of the nuclear family, increased enrolment in higher education, and the increasing costs of student debts and pension provisions.

It predicts that over the coming decades low-paid careers in the sector may become unviable for many people, and young graduates may be driven to seek higher paid alternatives in a bid to pay off their student debts, buy a house and prepare for retirement. The situation is becoming ever more acute as more young people go on to tertiary education.

Charities based in locations with high property prices may even be forced to adopt subsidised housing schemes as young key charity workers, like their public sector counterparts, are unable to pay off their student loans and break into the housing market.

Report authors Elisha Evans and Joe Saxton warn that, even though the changes appear to be happening gradually, charities must adapt or risk failure. Although political changes are often treated with urgency, the report suggests that social and demographic changes may prove to be "the real enemy".

"Charities should use the report as a stimulation tool," said Evans.

"They need to look at the trends shown in the report and see if any of them are affecting their organisations, and consider how they may be affected in the future."

NCVO agrees that long-term preparation is key. "Effective recruitment and retention strategies are vital if a charity is to prosper," said Joanna Wootton, HR manager at NCVO. "It is crucial that chief executives and trustees treat staff-related issues with the same importance as fundraising, and plan accordingly.

"An integral part of this has to be a diversity strategy which is interwoven into all aspects of an organisation."

Changes in the structure of society are also predicted to have a significant impact on fundraising and volunteering.

Legacies will be affected as people live longer and are more likely to have to sell their homes, the source of most bequests, to finance residential care.

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